By Amanda Litvinov / photo: Oklahoma teacher Carri Hicks hugs her educator colleagues after filing to run for state office in April.
For Oklahoma teacher Carri Hicks, her decision to run for the Oklahoma state senate was cemented the day that she met with a state senator serving on the education committee in the spring of 2017.
He said she was lying when she told him there were 28 children in her 4th-grade classroom, a room built to accommodate just 18 students.
“It felt so defeating that I would take a personal day and leave the classroom to come and advocate for my students and then be met with such blatant disregard for the truth,” said Hicks.
Within weeks, she would announce her campaign.
Hicks is one of more than 1,800 current or former educators who ran for state legislative seats in 2018, according to an NEA estimate. An additional 100 educators ran for top state or federal seats, with many more running for seats on school boards and other local positions.
Many of those educator-candidates are from states that spearheaded the historic #RedForEd walkouts this spring: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. Oklahoma led the charge with more than 62 educators on the general election ballot. Nearly two dozen of those educators won their elections.
When the final results were in, the number of educators in the Oklahoma legislature had nearly tripled, going from nine to 25. They are both Republicans and Democrats.
Educator-candidates delivered some of the most exciting headlines of election night, in #RedforEd states and beyond.
In Wisconsin, state Superintendent of Public Instruction and former teacher Dr. Tony Evers ousted Gov. Scott Walker. Evers blasted Walker on the campaign trail for cutting state funding for K-12 schools by $1.2 billion in his first five years as governor, and decimating the collective bargaining rights of educators and other public employees.
Clearly, voters did not buy Walker’s claim in the weeks leading up to the election that he was a “pro-education governor.”
Minnesota voters gave U.S. Rep. Tim Walz—a former high school geography teacher and football coach—a decisive victory in the race for governor. Walz has served in Congress since 2006, voting in favor of full funding for special education and against voucher programs. Eleven other current and former members of Education Minnesota, the statewide educator union, were also elected to state offices.
Former Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes made history in Connecticut, becoming the first black woman elected to represent the state in Congress.
Equally heartening to public education advocates is the fact that educators all over the country won seats in state legislatures, where critical decisions are made about education policy and school funding.
“There’s a common misconception that if you have participated in education in any way, as a student or parent, that you are fully equipped to make policy on these very complex issues,” said Carri Hicks.
“Having educators who are fresh from the classroom will provide much-needed perspective on what is actually happening in our classrooms right now.”
In Colorado, a late surge and record midterm voter turnout helped educator Rochelle Galindo win a seat in the statehouse. Galindo, who is just 28 years old, is a head custodian at Laffayette Elementary School and a member of the Colorado Education Association, and has served on the Greeley City Council—the first openly gay Latina to do so.
Like so many of her peers, Galindo’s run was inspired by the teacher walkouts this spring over education funding. Colorado currently ranks 46th for teacher pay and 42nd in per pupil funding, according to NEA’s 2017 edition of Rankings & Estimates.
“Every single day I see how hard they work, how all of us who are connected to kids work to provide them with the best education possible,” Galindo told the Denver Post. She is committed to fighting for education funding in the next legislative session.
“After decades of starving education funding, educators stepped up and said, ‘I can do better,’” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a sixth-grade teacher who is now president of the National Education Association.
“They found themselves asking, ‘Why not have an educator in that lawmaking decision seat?’ And that’s exactly why they ran for office and voters elected them to serve.”
Educators also made historic efforts to help pro-public education candidates win.
Nearly 220,000 NEA members and their families were involved in the 2018 elections, as measured through phone banking and canvassing. That figure represents a 165 percent increase in activism compared to 2016, which is notable given that there is typically far less activism and lower voter turnout in midterm elections.
Local and state races were the biggest beneficiaries of NEA activism.