Voters deliver major wins for students, public education in 2018 midterm elections


#RedForEd movement and historic educator activism make 2018 the ‘Year of the Educator’

WASHINGTON — Nicknamed by observers and political pundits as the “Year of the Educator,” the 2018 midterm election results mark a major victory for students and serve as a mandate for real change in our public education system. Harnessing the momentum of the historic #RedForEd movement, with a surge of educators on the ballot and historic educator activism, the National Education Association and its affiliates helped to elect leaders that are positioned to shift the balance of power in state capitals and the U.S. Congress, where victories will add a critical check on policies that have hurt students, their families and communities.

Kitchen table issues typically dominate the discussion during midterm elections, and education was a top issue in races this year. MarketWatch reported that education was the second most mentioned topic in advertisements for gubernatorial candidates of both parties. But education wasn’t just a topic on the campaign trail. The midterm elections saw a spike in educators on the ballot.

“Lawmakers learned an important lesson tonight: You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Candidates across the country witnessed unprecedented activism by educators in their races. Standing up for students and supporting public education were deciding factors for voters, and educators will hold lawmakers to their promises.”

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote up and down the ballot in the 2018 election. That figure represents a 165 percent increase in activism engagement this election cycle compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms, as measured through time put in phone-banking and canvassing. Local and state races were the biggest beneficiaries of NEA member activism.

An analysis by NEA revealed nearly 1,800 current or former teachers and other education professionals ran for state legislative seats, and an additional 100 educators ran for top state or federal seats in Election 2018. A bulk of educators come from states that experienced historic #RedForEd walkouts this spring: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. In fact, Oklahoma led the charge with more than 62 educators who were on the general election ballot.

“After decades of starving education funding, educators stepped up and said, ‘I can do better.’ They found themselves asking, ‘Why not have an educator in that lawmaking decision seat?’ And that’s exactly why they ran for office and voters elected them to serve,” added Eskelsen García, a sixth-grade teacher who now heads the nation’s largest union.

The primary focus of NEA’s electoral efforts this election cycle was on state races because education policy is decided by state legislatures and public education funding is a primary responsibility of the state. NEA investments were aimed at elevating our issues and promoting pro-public education candidates through candidate and independent expenditure communications and extensive grassroots field efforts. Significant resources also were devoted to federal races where priority U.S. Senate targets like Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin were elected and the U.S. House of Representatives flipped to Democratic control, providing a significant check on the power of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.

Top targeted statewide races in which NEA and its state-level affiliates conducted aggressive member-to-member field and communications program include:

  • Wisconsin governor-elect Tony Evers, an educator at the top of a state ticket and defeated Gov. Scott Walker
  • Republican Brad Little, who has been elected the next Idaho governor
  • Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker, who defeated incumbent Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner
  • Kansas governor-elect Laura Kelly
  • Michigan governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer
  • Minnesota governor-elect Tim Walz, a career-teacher and a member of Education Minnesota, NEA’s state-level affiliate
  • Minnesota auditor-elect Julie Blaha, an educator and member of Education Minnesota, NEA’s state-level affiliate
  • New Mexico governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham
  • New Mexico land commissioner-elect Stephanie Garcia Richard, a member of NEA-New Mexico
  • Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Penn.) was re-elected to a second term

NEA and its affiliates worked to flip the state legislative chambers into pro-public education majorities like:

  • Colorado state senate
  • Connecticut state senate
  • Maine state senate
  • Minnesota state house
  • New Hampshire house and senate
  • New York state senate

The following ballot initiatives were top priorities for NEA and its affiliates:

  • Maryland Question 1, which creates a “lockbox” for gaming revenue dedicated solely for K-12 education funding and has the potential to generate approximately $500 million annually in new funding for Maryland’s public schools. NEA’s affiliate, the Maryland State Education Association, worked with a broad-based coalition to get lawmakers to refer the amendment to the ballot. The Republican governor, Larry Hogan, and all but two Republican legislators supported referring this amendment to the ballot.
  • Missouri Amendment 1, which is positioned to clean up Missouri’s political system, long-plagued by ethics corruption, and create a fair representation system. The passed ballot measure imposes contribution limit, bans revolving-door lobbying and lobbyist gifts and imposes redistricting reform. The Missouri-NEA was an early leader and driving force of the state-level coalition that worked to get the initiative on the ballot.
  • Montana LR-128, which is an education funding levy for Montana’s universities that is up for statewide renewal every 10 years. NEA’s affiliate, the Montana Public Employees Association, was a major driver of the $6 million-levy reaching the ballot.

“Educators have had enough of empty promises from politicians. We told them we’d remember in November, and educators keep their promises,” added Eskelsen García. “As a result of the historic #RedForEd movement and the 2018 midterm election, educators have found their voice, and they are going to continue to hold lawmakers accountable after this election.”