Oklahoma educators win state legislature seats

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by Brian Washington

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UPDATED Friday, Nov. 18th with comments from Oklahoma Education Association President, Alicia Priest.

Earlier this year, Education Votes reported on dozens of Oklahoma educators who were involved in primary races to secure seats in the state legislature. Out of that large group, 26 educators actually made it on the ballot for Election Day. They ran for seats in the Oklahoma House and Senate primarily as Democrats and Republicans, but one educator ran as an Independent.

This election cycle proved to be a tough one for pro-public education candidates across the nation and at every level of government. However, we are proud to report that five Oklahoma educators won their races for the state legislature. They include the following: Rhonda Baker (R) HD 60, Forrest Bennett (D) HD 92, Mickey Dollens (D) HD 93, Michael Bergstrom (R) SD 01, and Chris Kidd (R) SD 31. A complete rundown of how all the teacher-candidates fared is listed below.

 

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Chart courtesy of KOSU-Radio. Blue=Democrat, Red=Republican, Yellow=Independent. Black dot next to names in the “Opponents” column denotes the incumbent.

 

The hope is those educators who won can join forces with other pro-public education lawmakers and push for more funding for Oklahoma’s public schools. According to the most recent NEA Rankings and Estimates, nationwide, Oklahoma comes in at 49th in per pupil education spending. The state spends $7,925 per pupil. The regional average is about $12,000 (based on 2013-14 school year estimates). Since the beginning of the year, state lawmakers have cut more than $100 million from the education budget.

Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year who was also a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year award, made it through the primaries and ran as an Independent for a senate seat in District 15.

Unfortunately, Sheehan, a high school special education and math teacher, did not win his seat, but he recently penned a blog post indicating he will continue to fight for his students.

The loss is still a win for me because I get to continue doing the thing that I love, and the thing I’m very good at, which is teaching math to students who really struggle with it.

But there’s a fire that’s been lit on a torch I promised I’d carry for all the educators out there. It hasn’t been extinguished. It has intensified. Now, I will continue to fight for public education in a different way. Now, more than ever, we educators need to let our lights shine brightly so our students may see in the darkness.

Sheehan says he needs a little time to “recover, refocus, and strategize” before he, once again, begins tackling the challenges facing public education in Oklahoma. His only question now is, how many more educators and/or pro-public education activists will help carry the torch and join him in the fight.

To read Sheehan’s full blog post, click here.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents about 40,000 educators throughout the state, says even though they didn’t win all the races they had hoped to win, education is still the big winner.

“With all of the current and former teachers and administrators and relatives of teachers running for office, education became the top issue throughout the campaign season. Education, specifically funding and a teacher pay raise, were elevated topics,” said Priest, a Spanish teacher who has worked with English Language Learners. “It will now be up to the members of the Oklahoma Education Association to keep that dialogue going when the legislative session opens in February, and make sure the talk turns into action.”

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