Educator Voices

More women in Congress bodes well for public education

By Colleen Flaherty

Election Day 2012 brought an unprecedented number of wins for women running for office. The U.S. Senate will be home to 20 female members, a historic high. The good news for students and educators is that historically, more diversity in Congress sets a better stage for pro-education policies.

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“When women are in office, they have the right priorities. They put women and families first,” said Jess McIntosh, communications director for EMILY’s List, a nonprofit organization that promotes progressive women in politics.

The field of teaching remains a female-dominated profession, and 74 percent of National Education Association members–who are teachers and education support professionals–are female. According to McIntosh, Congress should resemble the constituency they represent.

“Government ought to look like a representative democracy. Young girls ought to be able to grow up and look at Congress and say, yeah, that looks like my classroom, that looks like my hometown, that looks like me.”

Infographic by ThinkProgress

According to studies by the Impact Project looking at the impact of female involvement in legislation, women overwhelming vote to protect public education, especially programs like Head Start and early education.

“For the most part, they’re not thinking about special interests or advancing their political careers,” said McIntosh. “They’re thinking about what they can do to improve the lives that they understand really well, the lives of women and families in America.”

She credits the GOP for bolstering women’s representation. After their wins in 2010, conservatives ran on very socially divisive issues, some anti-union and anti-education, and that brought out supporters for women candidates.

“Voters turned out in record numbers, and they elected these really great women. The face of 113th Congress is going to look really different because of it,” said McIntosh.

Jean Dobashi with Senator-elect Mazie Hirono.

Senator-elect Mazie Hirono is among the newly elected and the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. Jean Dobashi, a retired teacher in Hawaii, who was elated when Hirono won.

“Mazie is our champion when it comes to early childhood education and education for all. She has a perfect voting record when it comes to children and great public schools for every student,” said Dobashi.

Hirono is a Japanese immigrant who came to this country at a very young age and highly praises the education she received in Hawaii. Dobashi said Hirono strives to provide the same opportunities she had growing up to all students.

“Every Asian-American woman felt proud and happy for Mazie. She will represent all of us very well in the Senate chambers.”

In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s stunning defeat of former governor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson for an open Senate seat was another historic win. Baldwin is the first openly gay senator and in her time in the House of Representatives, she established a consistent pro-education voting record.

“Tammy understands that access to quality public education is instrumental in leveling the playing field and has fought to make sure we are investing in our children’s future,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democratic State Assembly Representative from Madison.

“We know we can count on Tammy to stand up for hard-working middle class families and for opportunities our children need to succeed.”

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren defeated incumbent Scott Brown in a hotly contested Senate race. Lois Jacobs is a retired teacher in Boston who was excited for Warren and her new colleagues.

Lois Jacobs

“Finally we have more women in Congress. It’s about time,” said Jacobs. “I want this new crop of women to stand up for education. I want these congresswomen to have a more realistic approach to education reform.”

Jacobs, a teacher of 23 years, said it was gratifying to see anti-education candidates defeated. She said it’s reassuring that funding will be protected for any programs that help children.

“Any women who brought up children understand the importance of Sesame Street. After this election, we know Big Bird is safe.”

When all is said and done, said McIntosh, diversity in our representation is crucial to make sure all perspectives are represented.

“Women bring something different to the table. Those are important viewpoints that need to be considered when you’re talking about the lives of Americans.”


2 responses to “More women in Congress bodes well for public education

  1. Utah almost elected the first black Republican female congressional representative (maybe we did, if absentee and provisional ballots change a close outcome). The election was heavily impacted by very negative ads from national congressional committees that really turned off a lot of voters. NEA endorsed a president who “struggled” with seventh grade math, and promised the moon to everybody, in exchange for their votes. NEA went right along with his idea that there are somehow enough “rich people” to pay for anything we want. Now we are heading for another recession, because of this thoughtless, wishful (hopeful?) thinking.

    Whether male or female, we need representatives who will pay for necessary services, and quit wasting money on pork. We need a government that will let the economy grow, so that more tax revenue can be collected at a lower rate. Teachers should be smart enough to understand that, but apparently too many don’t get it. I’d love to see schools get more funding right now, but not at the expense of our grandchildren, who deserve to inherit a nation that is solvent. Teachers have been subsidizing public education for generations, by accepting low pay, and until we get more responsible people in charge of government, it will have to continue.

  2. What a bias headline. Of course more women equals better funding for education, because clearly men don’t care about learning. Rude! All legislatures care about kids, families, schools, etc. The entire social structure. Women do not possess “natural” caring genes. Some of the most caring, nurturing teachers in my history, were men. The harshest teachers were women. Entering a classroom, all I wanted to know do I matter in your classroom. Male/Female was irrelevant in answering that question. The last statement is especially gender bias. All individuals, regardless of gender bring unique and personal perspectives to the classroom. I long for the day when we see individual people, not groups of people who are restricted by our “informed” opinion or limited understanding.

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