By Amanda Menas
If we’ve learned anything in 2019 it’s that educators are a powerful force in elections.
It started when educator organizing helped elect a pro-public education majority in the Virginia legislature and replace a combative, educator-bashing governor in Kentucky with a candidate who has pledged to invest in public schools and treat educators with respect.
Now, educator activism has helped score an impressive win in Louisiana with the re-election of Gov. John Bel Edwards on Saturday.
Across the deeply red state of Louisiana, members of the Louisiana Education Association (LAE) volunteered at record rates before turning out to cast ballots for Edwards, a Democrat. They completed more than 20,000 phone calls, sent more than 16,600 text messages, and knocked on more than 12,000 doors to have one-on-one conversations.
Public education was a key issue in the race; for some, it was the issue.
Many educators put aside party affiliation to support Edwards, who has a proven track record of supporting Louisana’s public schools and listening to educators about what students need to succeed.
“Throughout his first term in office, Gov. Edwards showed school employees appreciation for their hard work,” said LAE President Dr. Tia Mills.
“Because of this renewed sense of respect, along with a genuine seat at the table, educators from every walk of the profession are beginning to feel valued again, and that’s why so many LAE members worked incredibly hard to help ensure his victory,” Mills said.
Under Edwards’ leadership, Louisiana has been able to enact the following policies:
- The governor named school employee pay raises his number one priority for the 2019 legislative session. At the start of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, he championed legislation to increase teacher salaries by $1,000, and support professionals received a salary boost of $500. It was the first substantive pay raise for Louisiana teachers in more than five years.
- Gov. Edwards changed the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program, empowering local taxing authorities, including local school districts, to vote on the granting of property tax exemptions to corporations. The governor’s executive order placed power back in the hands of local parents and educators, and ultimately restored a precious funding source for public schools.
- When funding for a state program that provides scholarships for Louisiana students to attend public colleges (Louisiana Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS) was threatened by the legislature’s proposed budget, Gov. Edwards used his state of the state address to stress the urgency of fixing the Louisiana’s financial crisis. Gov. Edwards and his allies were able to advance a $30 billion annual budget that included full funding for the program, plus a $39 million block grant for public school districts.
“The teachers and education support professionals of the Bayou State appreciate how Gov. Edwards has been a true partner, working with educators to put students first and strengthen Louisiana’s public schools,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
“They saw Gov. Edwards making the hard choices, which pulled the state out of debt while investing in public schools. His efforts helped expand opportunity for Louisiana’s students, and ensure school districts can attract and retain the quality educators that students deserve by giving educators the first recurring pay raises in over a decade,” García said.
Educators organized many grassroots events that included phone banks, parades, community walks and canvassing shifts. LAE members participated in more than 35 community parades and special events, and spoke with hundreds of thousands of potential voters to share what was at stake.
“Across the nation, educators and parents have been coming together as part of the #RedforEd movement to advocate on behalf of students and our neighborhood public schools. Educators are empowered and engaged like never before, and they made their presence felt in this election,” García said.
Educators across the country will continue to use their voice in the coming year, organizing Red for Ed events and getting involved early in the 2020 elections. Find out more at StrongPublicSchools.org.