He knew he had to run.
And if Jacobi Crowley wins on November 6, he will become the youngest state senator in the history of Oklahoma. At age 26, the Democratic candidate from District 32 will also become an inspiration to the many education support professionals (ESP) and other educators running for public office.
“Educators are stepping up,” says Crowley, a counselor at Bridge Academy Alternative School in Lawton and member of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). “If we want to bring education issues to the forefront, we have to run for public office.”
The young nominee is also a football coach at Eisenhower High School, an ordained minister, and radio host who has lived in Lawton all of his life.
“I realize I may need to put some of my other activities on hold if I win the election,” says Crowley, a graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University with a degree in special education. “I can do that.”
In Illinois, Shirley Bell is a Democratic candidate for District 110 in the House of Representatives. A member of the Illinois Education Association (IEA), Bell is a recruitment coordinator in the admissions office at Elgin Community College in Elgin.
“Our ESPs are instrumental to the great work being done in our schools and classrooms throughout Illinois,” says IEA President Kathi Griffin. “As a classroom teacher, I would not have been able to meet the needs of all of the students in my classroom without ESPs and the expertise and compassion they have for our students.”
Across the nation, ESP members are among 554 educators who are running for political office this year. Like other educators, a common objective is to highlight policies involving school funding, educator pensions, health care, and collective bargaining.
In preparation for midterms, NEA is set to unleash a historic #RedForEdWave in statehouses across the country. The goal: Support the 512 Democrats and 42 Republicans on the ballot. Slightly more than 56 percent of candidates are women. This number includes only candidates running for statehouse or senate seats.
“They (ESPs) are standouts with the leadership skills, talent and dedication to run for statewide office,” says Griffin.
Crowley is campaigning on a platform that is pro-education and pro-criminal justice reform, two issues he views as intertwined.
“If an individual can’t read by the time they get to third grade, experience and history show us that this person may be soon involved with the criminal justice system,” he says. “We have to make sure that kids are getting the attention and resources they need to lead productive lives free of arrests and incarceration.”
Fully funding Kentucky’s public school system while protecting public sector pensions are priorities for Denise Gray, Democratic candidate for state senate in the 28th district.
“In order to recruit and retain well-qualified educators, we need a fully-funded pension program,” says Gray, 39, a special-needs paraeducator at Crawford Middle School in Lexington.
“We’ve had a large number of teachers and ESPs retire in recent years,” says Gray, a graduate of the University of Louisville and University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “Because of a shortage, policymakers are now lowering standards and requirements to teach in this state. Better pay and a reliable pension program will help Kentucky attract well-qualified teachers and ESPs.”
Gray is also adamant about policies that support a tuition-free, 2-year college or trade school of choice for students, and the right of workers to bargain collectively.
On his Facebook page, Timothy Goodwin, Democratic candidate for District 23 of the Maine House of Representatives, vows to fight for jobs that pay a living wage, including those of fellow ESPs.
Goodwin, an education technology specialist at Gorham High School in Gorham, also supports state funding assistance for pre-kindergarten programs and the full funding of the voter-approved law requiring 55 percent of state funding be allocated to primary and secondary school budgets. He is also a proponent of free tuition throughout the Maine Community College system, and expanded apprentice programs in construction trades and other skilled professions.
Goodwin states: “As your legislator, my priorities will be property tax relief through state meeting funding obligations; health care for all, including Medicaid expansion for 70,000 residents as approved by Mainers; a quality education available to all; security for seniors; and protecting Maine’s natural resources.”
If victorious in Kentucky, Gray would be the second black woman in history to be elected to the state senate.
“I want my students to know that seeking public office is possible for them,” she says.
by John Rosales