By Amanda Litvinov
State Senator Carri 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 them 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.
EducationVotes recently caught up with Hicks to talk about her vision for public schools, and what it will take to achieve it.
What is your vision for public education as you prepare to take office?
We need to invest in our public schools. When we talk about education funding, some people want to come up with this magic number, asking, “How much is it going to take?” But we can’t be so shortsighted. First, let’s talk about what our students deserve. Last year, more than 100,000 Oklahoma students in K-12 schools were taught by someone other than a certified teacher. We should have a certified teacher in every classroom. That is not a luxury, that should be the standard. In order to do that, we need to close loopholes that cost the state revenue and re-prioritize spending.
How can public school supporters help to achieve that vision?
People need to remain engaged, united, and focused on what’s best for our students. Through the walkouts in the spring, educators achieved a salary increase, but two sources of revenue for that increase will actually be diverted in the second year—the fuel tax and the cigarette tax. That leaves another unfunded mandate. If we do not have the legislative will to find additional sources of revenue we will be in a world of hurt next year, and public school supporters should remind their legislators of that.
What do you bring to the table as a former classroom teacher serving in the state legislature?
There’s a real misconception that if you have participated in education in any form—whether as a former student or a parent—that you are somehow equipped to make policy on a very complicated issue. I think having educators who are fresh from the classroom will provide that perspective on what is actually happening in our classrooms right now.
What has been the hardest thing about being out of the classroom?
Being around my students every day. But they were also my reason for running for office in the first place. As fourth-graders, they didn’t quite get that they didn’t have any science homework simply because there weren’t enough textbooks for them to take home. They have been with as many as 27 other kids in a classroom specifically built for 18 students. They don’t understand that these conditions are not normal, because the entire time they’ve been in public schools, that has been their experience. I want to improve all of those conditions for them.
You are a second-generation educator. How has that influenced your own career?
I have always been well informed about what is happening in education in Oklahoma. My father taught for 32 years, and it was a continued conversation around our dinner table since I was very young. When Oklahoma educators went on strike in 1990, I was a student and my dad brought me with him to walk the picket line. When we walked out in April, he came to walk the line with me. It was poetic, but also sad that all these years later, we still have to make the case that the state should invest more in our students. My dad, a lifetime Oklahoma Education Association member, taught me the power of the union. When I became a teacher, his first bit of advice was that I should join right away. He’s always right.