The mid-term elections are still a week away but already educators are one of the big winners of this campaign season.
Hundreds of teachers across the country are running for state or federal elected office in this general election. What has prompted this surge in educator candidates? A number of policy issues and political conditions have come together to energize this educator activism.
The Lingering Effects of the Great Recession—
It’s been ten years since the economic calamity when the world’s financial institutions teetered on the precipice of destruction. And yet, in most states education budgets have not returned to their pre-2008 funding levels. As of 2016, 25 states provided less for K-12 education than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation.
Teacher Walkouts and Salaries—
Nowhere has this funding deficit played out more publicly than in Oklahoma, where the state was running a perennial $1 billion budget shortfall, districts shortened the school week to four days, and not only had Oklahoma teachers not gotten a raise in ten years, the average pay had actually gone down compared to the prior year. The teacher strike in the Sooner State mirrored teacher revolts in other states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Kentucky. After ten years of barely treading financial water while all around them the economy continued to boom, teachers have hit the breaking point.
If stagnant teacher salaries were the tinder, the election of President Donald Trump and his appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education was the spark that set teachers aflame. Trump’s education platform of more money for vouchers didn’t really rile up educators. But his appointment of Betsy DeVos has stoked lingering educator resentment. DeVos is one of the nation’s preeminent school privatization champions and has made the elimination of the $2.1 billion for educator professional development (Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act) the cornerstone of the Trump administration’s education budget proposals.
Taken all together, these factors have ultimately led to an impressive cadre of educators running for elected office. They are the next generation in the logical evolution of teacher involvement in advocacy and policy. These candidates aren’t interested in persuading policymakers to their point of view. They intend to be the policymakers with the ultimate decisionmaking authority.
No matter November’s election results, the impressive number of educator candidates this year is a big win for education overall and a very encouraging sign for ever larger numbers of educators to take the lead in education policymaking in the years—and elections—to come.