Education Week - May 16, 2018 - 19
Teachers Aim to Turn Labor Momentum Into Electoral Victories
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campaign slogans, and chanted at
their rallies, "We'll remember in
More than 100 teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma have so far
filed to run for state office.
Union activists will also likely pull
in some help from their national
headquarters. The NEA Advocacy
Fund, for example, spent more than
$18 million on state and federal
elections in 2016, and later this
week, the NEA will host a training
workshop for teachers who have
filed to run for office.
With the onset of summer, activists in several states worry that
progress on boosting school funding
could stall and even backslide.
Photos by Laura Segall for Education Week
Our power is people
and going to the polls,
not necessarily in
That's where we're
trying to mobilize."
TOP: From left, Lynette
Guck, Allegra Fullerton,
and Jeanne Lunn review
petitions for a campaign
amendment in Scottsdale,
Ariz. Many education
advocates are supporting
that cause, along with
efforts to raise taxes for
more school funding and
to roll back the state's
expanded voucher law.
West Virginia Education Association
"When there's a big flashy event
like a rally or a budget passage,
that's an easy thing to get people
motivated around," said Dawn
Penich-Thacker, a spokeswoman for
Save Our Schools Arizona, one of
the grassroots advocacy groups that
led the protests there for increased
teacher pay and school funding.
"But the summers here are very
sleepy, it's very hot. They go inside
and watch Netflix, and it's really
hard to get them back outside."
Arizona's Next Battle
The underlying issues that led to
the recent teacher unrest remain in
Leaders of Arizona's teacheractivist groups, for example, are
highly skeptical of the deal they
made with Republican Gov. Doug
Ducey and now see their recent
statewide strike as just the beginning, rather than the climax, of
They originally demanded a
$1 billion infusion into public
schools, a 20 percent pay raise
by this fall (with step and ladder
increases) and a moratorium on
all tax cuts. But what ultimately
passed amounted to a 20 percent
pay raise by 2020, with half that
money coming from projected
revenue increases from a buoyed
In the meantime, the union is
holding political forums across
West Virginia and getting volunteers to sign up to canvass this
summer. While it did see a slight
uptick in campaign donations this
year, the union is limited in how it
can spend and organize, Randolph
"Our power is people and going
to the polls, not necessarily in
raising money," Randolph said.
"That's where we're trying to mobilize."
Colorado's 'Army of Activists'
With few options on the table,
teachers headed back to school earlier this month but are targeting
Ducey and several legislators in
their re-election bids this fall.
Activists are also throwing their
weight around in two controversial
campaign issues in this year's election that deal with school funding.
Save Our Schools Arizona, for example, is campaigning to overturn
the state's expansive voucher program, which after a long-running
battle, is subject to a vote.
Another ballot measure seeks to
raise income taxes on the state's
wealthiest 1 percent in order to
provide $690 million to its public
schools. Arizona Center for Economic Progress, a group leading
that endeavor, needs 150,642 valid
signatures from registered Arizona
voters before July 5 in order to get
the measure on the ballot.
Penich-Thacker said that Save
Our Schools has spent a large portion of the more than $200,000
raised so far for legal costs and
campaign efforts on T-shirts, fli-
ers, and palm cards that boil down
the group's issues to a few talking
Tide of Candidates
The economic and political realities in Kentucky and Oklahoma are
so bleak, leaders there say, that the
only way to fight back is for teachers themselves to run for office.
After work stoppages and demonstrations, teachers in Kentucky
managed to water down proposed
changes to the state's pension
plan, and teachers in Oklahoma
managed to get a $6,000 raise this
fall. But both pension and school
funding will likely be up for debate
again during next year's legislative sessions in those states. And
in Oklahoma, a group of businesses
are working to place on this fall's
ballot a referendum that would reverse the tax hikes used to provide
teachers with their pay hike.
At least 50 teachers from each
state have filed to run for a legislative seat, leaders say, and or-
ganizers are scrambling to figure out how best to push them
through the May and June primaries when they'll face popular
and politically savvy incumbents.
The NEA training for those teachers in Atlanta this week will focus
on how to frame the issues, manage campaign funds, and canvass.
West Virginia's teachers notched an
early political victory during last
week's primary when they helped
GOP candidate Bill Hamilton defeat
incumbent Republican state Sen.
Robert Karnes, who they accused
of saying some "nasty" things about
teachers during their nine-day strike
and introducing bills that didn't have
teachers' best interests in mind.
Hamilton, currently a state representative, has a "free spirit and
doesn't seem to be party-bound,"
said Kym Randolph, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia
Education Association. "We realize there are different degrees in
the severity of fiscal conservatism
here. Sometimes, your moderate
Republican is a good choice."
As thousands of teachers in
Colorado gathered in front of the
state's capitol in the waning days
of the legislative session, activists
got to work building what they
refer to as an "army of activists."
That army, said Kerrie Dallman,
the president of the Colorado Education Association, is now 18,000
strong, and organizers plan to
deploy their efforts this fall when
the governorship and party control of the state legislature is up
At the same time, education
leaders, the teachers' union, and a
group of businesses are working to
place on the ballot a measure that
would ask voters to raise taxes on
those making more than $150,000
a year in order to provide $1.6 billion for schools. In Colorado, voter
approval is needed for any tax increases.
Despite failed efforts in the past
to raise taxes, the energy this
year, Dallman said, is different.
"West Virginia, I think, will always evoke inspiration among all
of us," Dallman said. "There's a
greater awareness of how elections
impact our classrooms and their
students. We're all fired up now."
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