by Félix Pérez
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Two days after a historic election that sent shock waves through state legislatures, governors’ ranks and Congress, educators are reminding elected officials from both parties that the needs of students and their families must come before partisan advantage.
Tens of thousands of teachers and education support professionals were involved in elections at the local and state levels — canvassing neighborhoods, volunteering at phone banks, sharing information on social media, attending rallies, and talking with their coworkers and friends about what is at stake. Regardless of the negative election outcomes, however, educators are setting politics aside and continuing what they’ve always done — preparing lesson plans, grading exams, reviewing homework, and making sure students have the best opportunity possible to succeed.
“The results from election night were not what I had hoped for, but they have not diminished my commitment to my students and public education,” said Michigan education support professional Robert Gaines III. “I will continue to roll up my sleeves every day to advocate for what my students need to succeed.”
The number of pro-public candidates who lost was significant, but there were some noteworthy wins.
- U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire won a second term. Shaheen, a former educator, opposes evaluating teachers based largely on standardized test scores and supports increasing pay for teachers and education professionals.
- Gary Peters defeated a pro-voucher candidate to become Michigan’s newest U.S. senator. Peters, the son of a teacher, supports involving teachers in designing the procedures used to evaluate them.
- In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, who worked closely with educators to add nearly $500 million to K-12 funding during the economic downturn, was re-elected.
- New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan was re-elected to a second term. Hassan worked across party lines to maintain funding for K-12 education and restore funding for higher education, making it possible to freeze in-state tuition at the university system and reduce tuition at community colleges.
- Pennsylvanians voted overwhelmingly for a fresh start by electing Tom Wolf governor. Wolf has pledged to restore education funding after nearly $1 billion in public school funding cuts, nearly 20,000 lost education jobs and legislative proposals for private school tuition vouchers.
- Hawaii state Sen. David Ige won the race to become the state’s governor. “I believe that those closest to the children should be making the decisions about how funds should be spent, what the curriculum should look like and what’s the best way to help our students,” said Ige.
- California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson came out on top in a closely contested race. A former educator, Torlakson is a vocal opponent of a recent state court decision that strips teachers of long-standing basic job rights, including due process in dismissals. Torlakson called the case, on appeal, an attack on teachers.
Putting the election into perspective, Lily Eskelsen García, former Utah Teacher of the Year and National Education Association president, said:
Election Day 2014 has come and gone, but the important work of educators across the country remains ahead — to prepare students with the right skills to succeed in a 21st century economy. Students woke up this morning still deserving the best our nation can offer them. Regardless of the outcomes . . . , every student still needs a great public school to fulfill his or her greatest dreams.
Florida teacher Lucia Baez was unhappy with how her state’s race for governor turned out, but she said it will not distract her from doing what she loves — advocating for her students. “Educators are not the type of people to back down when it comes to what is best for students. Regardless of which party came out ahead, we will do what is best for students. Their future requires we all work together.”