Florida teachers union backs Crist among Democratic governor hopefuls

The Florida Education Association said it’s not a formal endorsement.
Rep. Charlie Crist speaks during a news conference in Ybor City on May 4, 2022.
Rep. Charlie Crist speaks during a news conference in Ybor City on May 4, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 31, 2022|Updated May 31, 2022

MIAMI — In his bid for Florida governor, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is receiving the backing of the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, representing about 150,000 educators, staff and higher education faculty.

The announcement, which the group said is not a formal endorsement, was made Tuesday morning in Miami Springs, alongside leaders of the Florida Education Association and United Teachers of Dade, an affiliated union that represents 30,000 teachers and other education professionals in South Florida.

“In a word, it’s huge,” Crist told the Herald ahead of the announcement. He added, “Public education’s in my blood,” citing his election as Florida’s education commissioner in 2000, before it became an appointed position.

Related: Florida Democrats struggle to find spotlight in race against DeSantis

While the groups are publicly backing Crist over his main opponents — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo — the groups are part of the Florida federation of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO. The larger labor union won’t make formal endorsements until it convenes in late June in Orlando to back candidates for the November midterm elections.

“We want him to get the full endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO, and we think that this is the first step to get that endorsement,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade. “Teachers are very frustrated. We feel like our current government isn’t listening to us, and it’s time for things to change.”

The Florida Education Association is the largest branch of the Florida AFL-CIO, which represents over 500 labor unions across the state, according to its website. Crist has already received the endorsement of the Communication Workers of America.

At Tuesday’s announcementin Miami Springs, Andrew Spar of the Florida Education Association recalled Crist’s support for teachers when he was governor and alluded to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ involvement with school curriculum.

“Certain politicians seek to sow division by pushing false narratives regarding public schools,” Spar said, “but parents and educators can trust Crist to address the real problems that affect kids every day.”

Hernandez-Mats said that teachers in South Florida have very similar demands to those in other parts of the state, including a frustration with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approach to education policy. She cited the state’s prioritizing a widespread review of math textbooks that could have content related to race or social-emotional learning, versus creating a school safety plan.

“There’s a teacher shortage and rightly so. Teachers are offended by the laws that are being passed,” she said, pointing to “ill will” from the Republican-led Legislature. “We are engaging in all these culture wars that people don’t care about.”

Crist, who has said he would sign an executive order banning assault weapons on day one if elected, said he’s concerned about school safety in light of the recent shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and 2 teachers.

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Related: Democratic candidates for Florida governor debate but focus on DeSantis

He added that while he supports having an armed person on school premises, he does not support arming teachers through the “armed guardian” program that is in effect in Florida.

“The notion that Gov. DeSantis wants and is banning books, yet at the same time wants to arm teachers shows his lack of any compassion, intellect level or common sense in dealing with real-life problems,” said Crist, referring to the state’s rejection of dozens of math textbooks over “woke” content.

Crist was joined by Spar and Hernandez-Mats, as well as local union presidents from Pinellas and other counties.