It’s back-to-school season in Florida. Actually, with students in some parts of the state set to return to the classroom today, it’d be more appropriate to call it “back-in-school” season.
After you wave goodbye to the kids at the bus stop or drop-off line, take a minute to read about the people in Tallahassee who make Florida schools what they are — and remember, every day is a school day if you learn something new.
Florida is the third-largest state and, unlike many others, its school districts are organized at the county level. That has led to the Sunshine State being home to some of the largest school districts in the country. Miami-Dade is the fifth-largest in the nation, followed by Broward at No. 7, Hillsborough at No. 9 and Palm Beach at No. 12.
Each of those school districts — and several others — have their own lobbying team. Miami-Dade is represented by Ron Book, Rana Brown and Kelly Mallette of Ronald L. Book P.A.; Michael Corcoran, Jacqueline Corcoran, Matt Blair, Andrea Tovar and Will Rodriguez of Corcoran Partners; Thomas Cerra of Florida School Services; Eduardo Gonzalez and William McRea of Sun City Strategies; and Yolanda Cash Jackson and LaToya Sheals of Becker & Poliakoff.
Jackson and Sheals also represent Broward Schools, as do Brian Ballard, Katherine San Pedro and Stephanie Zauder of Ballard Partners. Hillsborough Schools, meanwhile, have contracted with Alan Suskey, RJ Myers, Amy Maguire and Jim Taylor of Shumaker Advisors Florida as well as John White of Catalyst Consulting Group.
When it comes to K-12 education, there’s no more influential group than the Florida Education Association. The teacher union is not only the largest of its kind in the state, but the largest union in the entire Southeast. FEA represents more than 150,000 workers, including teachers, school staff, higher education faculty and graduate assistants.
When FEA needs representation in the state Capitol, it relies on Jonathan Kilman, Carlos Cruz and Elnatan Rudolph of Converge Public Strategies as well as its in-house team, which includes Catherine Schipman Boehme, Tina Dunbar, Stephanie Kunkel, Chadwick Leonard, Michael Monroe, Alexis Montalvo, Yale Olenick and Eric Riley.
One of the top issues in education today, unfortunately, is school safety. The Florida Department of Education has a division — the Office of Safe Schools — dedicated to school safety, and the state has taken many steps in the wake of the Parkland shooting to ensure Florida public schools are.
One of those steps is a requirement that all public schools implement a mobile panic alert system. After the requirement, also known as Alyssa’s Alert, was signed into law in 2020, DOE approved eight vendors that provide such systems. They include AppArmor/Cutcom Software, Ares Security Corporation, AT&T, Centegix, Everbridge, Intrado, Motorola Solutions, Raptor and 911 Cellular.
Each of those companies has had a Florida lobbying team at one point or another, and a few of them still do —Everbridge is represented by Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting Group and Raptor Technologies is represented by Sheela VanHoose of The Southern Group.
AT&T’s and Motorola Solutions’ business in the Sunshine State extends far beyond panic alerts and they, of course, have lobbyists too. Motorola Solutions is represented by Ken Granger of Capital City Consulting while AT&T has nearly four dozen lobbyists. A non-exhaustive list of firms the telecom giant has on retainer: The Advocacy Group, Ronald L. Book PA, Flagler Strategies, Converge Government Solutions, Metz Husband & Daughton, The Fiorentino Group, Becker & Poliakoff, The Mayernick Group and Liberty Partners.
On a lighter note, the first day of school wouldn’t be the same without the annual back-to-school sales tax holiday. This year’s was two weeks long and was no doubt a boon for Florida brick and mortars, which are represented by the Florida Retail Federation.
FRF relies on an in-house lobbying team, but it also has a handful of contract lobbyists assisting it in Tallahassee. They include Angela Bonds and French Brown of Dean Mead as well as Jon Johnson and Darrick McGhee of Johnson & Blanton.