LEE COUNTY, Fla-- Teachers have long been seen as a "voting block" that will turn out on election day. A WINK news investigation challenges that assumption. It also uncovers a problem education advocates say they've battled for a long time: overall, it is hard to get teachers to turn out to vote.
Florida teachers spoke up last spring against a bill in the Florida legislature linking teacher pay to performance in the classroom. Lawmakers passed the bill and Governor Rick Scott signed it into law.
It was the same law teachers protested in 2010 and successfully pressured then Governor Charlie Crist to veto. However, our investigation found though teachers made their voices heard through protests, emails, and letters to Tallahassee, teachers may have not been as vocal in the voting booth.
We obtained staff lists from election years from the Lee County School District. We then narrowed those down to just the personnel who live in Lee County.
With the help of the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting, we matched that list to those on the voter rolls from the Lee County Supervisor of Election.
Our research found the teacher voting block in Lee County is really a voting bust.
The November 2010 ballot contained the heated race for governor between Alex Sink and now Governor Rick Scott. It also had the referendum on the class size amendment. Despite an issue that directly affects classrooms on the ballot, only 48% of the Lee County School District personnel showed up at the polls.
When we broke that down to look exclusively at teachers, the rate was 54%.
Voter turn out for the general public for that election was 53.28%.
Those numbers didn't surprise Florida Gulf Coast Political Science professor Dr. Peter Bergerson.
"In some cases they will be higher and lower, but generally speaking they're (teachers) going to reflect mirror the general population," Bergerson told WINK NEWS.
Bergerson says politicians like to run on education issues because education affects nearly every voter.
Voters either went to public school, have children in public school, or they're paying for public school.
"So candidates when they want to attract voters they want to talk about educational issues and have them (voters) in essence listen to what they have to say," explained Bergerson about why politicians choose education platforms. "Because voters, when they hear issues like education, they internalize it to their own values, their own point of view, their own children, their own education."
He also says teachers tend to show up for elections about well defined issues affecting education not candidates. Our research seems to support that.
In the 2008 presidential election, 85% of registered Lee County voters turned out but our research found only 67% of Lee County School District personnel did.
In the school board election in August of 2010, 22% of Lee County Public School staff showed up compared to almost 24% of registered Lee County voters.
None of this surprises Island Coast FEA executive director Donna Mutzenard.
"For the most part teachers are not strong getting out to the polls to vote," said Mutzenard. "A lot of teachers have always felt what is important is what they do in the classroom. So they haven't been strong in the political arena."
She says until "No child left behind", most teachers didn't realize politicians could affect what happens inside their classroom.
But, she hopes teachers take notice.
"Because if you look at how many teachers are in Lee County and in the state, we swing a lot of clout," said Mutzenard.
There are nearly ten thousand people in Lee County who work for the school district. Our research found the registered voters who showed up on election day evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.