TAMPA, FLORIDA — In his bid to take back the governor’s mansion, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is touring the state seeking support from teachers and school boards. Crist, who served as Florida’s 21st education commissioner before winning the governorship in 2007, said he is “incredibly grateful“ for continued support from education professionals.
But after a recent donation from a controversial source, teachers across the state are calling foul. The $500,000 contribution by the American Federation of Teachers will boost Crist in the Democratic primary and his challenge to unseat the incumbent governor in November.
In a statement last Wednesday announcing the support, Crist wrote, “It’s deeply meaningful that our campaign’s single largest donation comes from the teachers who are working so hard to give our kids a bright future.”
Crist unveiled his new education plan entitled “Freedom to Learn” at a press conference on July 19 in Tampa. He criticized the state’s current education system, promising to raise teachers’ pay if elected. In addition, he blasted the current administration’s efforts to limit classroom discussions on race and LGBTQ+ matters.
With more than 100 local unions from the panhandle to the Keys, the FEA aims to represent every state category of public school employees. Members include graduate assistants, aspiring educators, staff professionals, pre-K through 12 teachers, and retired faculty.
The Florida Standard spoke with teachers around the state who said they were never notified of a large donation to Crist’s campaign. “I was not notified. They don’t speak for everyone. It’s aggravating to me as a union member that they’re supporting a candidate without notifying me or other teachers who don’t want our money going to support Charlie Crist,” said Robyn Smith, a teacher from central Florida.
PART OF A “SHAKEDOWN”
This past Wednesday, Crist voted, by proxy, in the U.S. House for the Inflation Reduction Act. “The IRS will raise at least $20 billion in new tax revenues from the middle class, thanks to the bill Congress passed on Friday. That’s from the CBO. It’s a shakedown. Did anyone send their elected members to Washington to shake down the middle class? I didn’t,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
THE MONEY TRAIL
The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union representing more than 150,000 educators, donated $50,000 to Crist’s campaign in June. The FEA is connected nationwide through a merger of five state unions, affiliating them with the larger American Federation of Teachers (AFT) based in Washington, D.C. The FEA touts itself as “the united voice for excellence in public education in Florida,” but the money trail leads elsewhere.
The person at the helm of the American Federation of Teachers is Randi Weingarten. Recently elected for an eighth term as president of the country’s second-largest teacher’s union, Weingarten earns $534,240 per year, more than eight times the average teacher salary in Florida.
The AFT, under her watch, advised against reopening schools post-pandemic and insisted on continuing to mask children even after updated CDC guidelines. The union promotes an agenda that includes turning classrooms into a divisive landscape of critical race theory and culture wars. 26 states have introduced bills or taken steps to limit discussion on racism in the classroom, and nine states have restrictions on discussing racism. But the union’s message to their members is that “Teachers must be honest about racial injustices so that students learn to think critically about how the country’s problematic past has shaped its present.” Any efforts to restrict conversations in the classroom are akin to censorship, the union told their members.
The union also drew criticism for supporting the Democracy Alliance, a group of Democratic donors criticized for its secrecy. In 2014, The Washington Free Beacon reported that Weingarten and her assistant partnered with the Democratic Alliance for $30,000 each, while the union donated $200,000.
A “Share my Lesson” website launched by Weingarten’s AFT promoted student introduction cards to an all-age level to help make students feel more affirmed. The cards asked students to write their preferred pronouns and specified that they would be kept secret from students’ parents.
“I believe that we need to bring common sense back to public schools, and that includes focusing primarily on core subjects. Bringing other ideologies into the classroom causes division between the students themselves, but it also causes division between teachers and parents. And that relationship is very important,” said April Carney, a parent and school board candidate in Duval county.
SPONSORING OUSTED ACTIVIST
Educators we spoke to are disgusted that Crist’s campaign paid $2,250 on July 8 to Politically Correct Strategies, a digital consulting firm registered to Dartmouth student and far-Left activist Jack Cocchiarella. Dartmouth’s College Democrats chapter expelled Cocchiarella from the democratic club “in late October 2021, following campus-wide allegations of sexual assault,” they wrote in a tweet. The allegations surfaced publicly through a series of Reddit posts in December 2021.
Students accused Cocchiarella of using “his Twitter notoriety and left-wing credentials to position himself as an ally. Then, once people let their guards down, he rapes them,” according to the online thread. Crist is not the only mainstream Democrat to hire Cocchiarella after the allegations. Marcus Flowers, Georgia Democratic candidate for Congress, paid Cocchiarella’s firm more than $40,000. Crist’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
"HURTING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES”
Moms for Liberty, a conservative parental rights advocacy group started by Tiffany Justice, is dedicated to fighting “short-sighted and destructive policies that directly hurt children and families.” As a former member of the School District of Indian River County, she’s concerned about the federal government and large unions’ involvement in schools, stating that it should be up to the parents. “We want the unions out of the decision-making process. We do not co-parent with the government,” she said.
“The unions are intent on driving a wedge between the parent and the child so that the child can be more easily manipulated to become whatever the system wants, and in my mind, that is all stemming from the unions’ agenda,” Justice added.
Justice explained that these agendas do not represent teacher union members’ primary focus. “The teachers’ unions are not representing teachers well, and so we’re helping teachers find the courage to leave and giving them support to do it.”
“We’re at a moment in America where more and more of America is seeing how broken our public education system is… and we believe that the best way to get this country on track and to reclaim public education and reform it is to elect parents and concerned community members who are going to put kids first on school boards. Because once you see the truth, you can’t ever unsee it.”
DISCONNECTED FROM VOTERS
In its own recent poll conducted by the Democratic firm Hart Research, the American Federation of Teachers found that voters are more aligned with Florida’s current track on education. By a 32-point margin, voters said they are more likely to vote for candidates who believe public schools should focus less on teaching race and gender and more on core subjects. By a 27-point margin, voters said that schools should not be allowed to teach sexual orientation and gender identity to kids in kindergarten through third grade. By a 28-point margin, voters said that transgender athletes should not be allowed to compete in girls’ sports.
“You’re seeing this across the country. Parents are the ones that raise their children. Teachers are involved in the education of a child one year at a time. Parents are there from birth to forever, and they need to be consistent in that child’s life,” said Tom Powers, chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County.