By Tim Walker
Education was a top-tier issue in the 2018 midterm elections across the nation. Its prominence in the Wisconsin governor’s race was such that incumbent Scott Walker campaigned as a champion of public education. For Wisconsin’s educators and parents, this was an outlandish sight given Walker’s notorious and unmistakable record of slashing the state’s education budget.
Wisconsin voters had a better choice in Tony Evers, the state superintendent of education and former teacher. Evers said he was running for governor “because I am goddamn sick and tired of Scott Walker gutting our public schools, insulting our hard-working educators, and destroying higher education in Wisconsin.” Not only has Evers proposed an increase in school funding of $1.4 billion over two years, but he’s also called for a phase-out of the state’s school voucher program.
It was close but Evers emerged victorious, defeating Walker’s bid for a third term. “We have a partner who’s willing to listen to us, and we need to be there to provide the kind of advice and support that he will need to lead this state,” said Wisconsin Education Association Council president Ron Martin.
Although the Wisconsin gubernatorial race attracted national attention, Evers was not the only staunchly pro-public education candidate elected governor in 2018. Far from it. Champions of public schools ran up an impressive string of victories – many in states whose schools had been weakened by reckless budget cuts and expansion of unaccountable charter schools and private school voucher programs.
Gavin Newsom in California, Jared Polis in Colorado, Brad Little in Idaho, JB Pritzker in Illinois, Laura Kelly in Kansas, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Tim Walz in Minnesota, Steve Sisolak in Nevada, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, Janet Mills in Maine, and Ned Lamont in Connecticut were all elected to their first terms. Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania and Kate Brown in Oregon were re-elected to second terms.
What all this means is come January, the majority of Americans will be led by governors with a proven track record of championing public education.
In addition to victories at the top of the ticket, educators helped elect a diverse slate of lieutenant governors (seven women, three African Americans, two Hispanic Americans, one Native American, and the first openly LGBTQ Lieutenant Governor) and flip the state legislative chambers into pro-public education majorities in six states. (Moreover, nearly 15 percent of all state legislative seats in the United States will be held by elected educators, according to an NEA analysis.)
Because education policy is decided by state legislatures and public education funding is a primary responsibility of the state, winning these contests was the primary focus of the National Education Association (NEA) and its affiliates. Overall, nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote up and down the ballot in the 2018 election.