A new report released by the National Education Associations identifies 554 teachers, members of NEA and other teachers’ union, running for State House this fall. The report comes as a new public opinion poll by PDK shows that 78% of Americans say that they would support the strike by teachers in their area.
“What we are witnessing is not a moment but a movement by educators running for office to fight for the public schools our students deserve,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
“Now, in the wake of historic walkouts and school actions, we have a chance to leave our mark and elect to office public education champions who will raise their voices and fight for our students and public education” says Eskelsen Garcia. “This is our time. This is our movement. We are going to ride this #RedForEdWave straight to the ballot box in November.”
One state, where teachers unions are hoping to change things is in Kentucky, where more than 40 teachers are running for statewide office.
In 2016, Kentucky Democrats lost control of the state house for the first time in 95 years. The results were disasters for unions with the new GOP majority passing anti-union “right-to-work” legislation, legalizing charters school in the state, and voting to dramatically slash teachers’ pensions.
In describing his fight to cut pensions for teachers and other public employees, Republican Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently compared it to save a drowning victim, who doesn’t want to be saved.
“It’s like saving a drowning victim,” Bevin told local radio station WKRC. “They are fighting you, fighting you, pulling you under. You just need to knock them out and drag them to shore. It’s for their own good.”
In April, teachers in Kentucky went on strike to protest the pension cuts. Now, the union says that over 40 teachers are running for statewide office in the hopes of putting education and union issues back on the table.
The lack of representation of teachers, a heavily female, in the state Capitol has long been cited as a reason why the male-dominated state legislature has passed laws that hurt teachers.
“This teacher movement is being led mostly by women because most of the teachers are women and it’s also one of the reasons why teachers are so under attack,” Attica Scott, the only black woman in the Kentucky State House, told me in an interview for the Guardian this year. “As so often in fields led by women those are the fields that are seen as most vulnerable by politicians.”
“The fact that we see an underrepresentation of women in elected office has a significant part to play in these attacks,” said Scott.
Now, a large mass of largely female teachers is running in Kentucky to rollback Governor Bevin’s attacks on teachers.
One of those teachers is Tina Bojanowksi, an elementary school teacher at Watterson Elementary in Louisville, who is running for State Representative against a Republican incumbent Phil Moffett.
Bojanowski had never considered running for office before but was persuaded to run after her union president encouraged her to run over a period of months. Her campaign has been largely staffed by her fellow teachers, who have gotten active in politics following the strike.
“I would say that nearly all but one or two have never been involved in campaigns at all,” says Bojanowski. “These strikes have generated a new wave of political activism”.
“People are scared for our democracy,” says Bojanowski. “Its outside interests like the Koch Brothers that want the charter schools and want to take on public education and we just don’t want that so we have to play a part in our democracy”.
Bojanowski says that she’s feeling optimistic that teachers union will do well in the ballot box in November, but warns that teachers like her aren’t naive about the fight against special interest that they will have ahead of them once they get into office.
“We aren’t going to give up though, we are going to keep fighting for public education,” says Bojanowski. “Public education is a corner store of our democracy and we are gonna to fight back”.