Public education wins big on Election Night

Public education was front and center of many Election 2018 victories, including two teachers winning the governor and state auditor races and overwhelming support for local levy referendums.

Tim Walz, who spent 20 years in a high school social studies classroom, will be Minnesota’s next governor. He knows what it's like to administer MCA tests instead of teaching. He has paid union dues and knows the value of union membership. He will bring all of those experiences into his governor’s office and pledges to make education a top priority.

“We look forward to working with Tim to fully fund public education, lower the cost of high-quality health care and make Minnesota a great place for working families,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said.

Also headed to the governor’s office is Peggy Flanagan, the first Indigenous woman elected to statewide office in Minnesota. She has been an advocate for children her entire career and understands the value of public education.

Minnesota’s next state auditor is a math teacher and former local union president, Julie Blaha. 

Blaha, former president of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota and secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said she wants “to pursue a relationship with the Minnesota Department of Education to build tools to help parents, students, community members and elected officials understand how school funds impact results.”

“Julie Blaha once said that when politicians are willing to call anything they don’t like ‘fake news’ and fear-mongering on race and religion is a routine campaign tactic, wouldn’t it be nice to have a state auditor you can trust to play it straight with the numbers and explain the issues as a good teacher would? On Tuesday, Minnesotans answered her questions with a resounding ‘yes,’” Specht said.

The story of Election Night 2018 is high voter turnout and engagement. Educators were at the forefront of that movement. 

In 2014, more than 33,000 educators did not vote. While we won’t have the 2018 numbers until early next year, we know that through our worksite action leader program, educators were pledging to vote in record numbers.

In other education wins, nine current and former Education Minnesota members were elected to the Minnesota House. Overall, 83 of Education Minnesota’s 130 endorsed candidates won their election.

Education Minnesota also supports local levy and bond referendum campaigns. Twenty-three of the 32 local levies Education Minnesota helped campaign for passed.

Education Minnesota-Red Wing got organized around their levy campaign last spring. 

“We needed more money,” said local president Kirby Hanson. “Question 1 was to renew the expiring levy that was put in place in 2008 and maintain current programming and staffing. Question 2 was to build college and non-college career readiness, enhance STEAM programming, and expand mental health and behavioral services to students who need them.”

Hanson started working with the “yes-yes” committee and several other teachers joined him. The local helped with literature drops, door knocking, phone calling, social media outreach and talking with the community at school events.

Through Education Minnesota’s local election program, the local was able to receive phones and laptops to use, targeted phone number and address lists, printing and design services and strategic guidance.

“(The win) shows how a small group of influential people (our yes-yes committee) can work their butts off and steer a community toward positive decision making,” said Hanson. “It also illustrates how important teacher involvement is in our communities. Without our teachers, neither question passes.”

The same result took place in Robbinsdale where they passed an operating levy with 62 percent of the vote.

“We cut $17 million over the past two years. We needed to change something so we didn’t cut classrooms and programs,” said Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers President Peter Eckhoff. “Hopefully this will have a positive impact on class sizes. We are also targeting some funds to enhance mental health supports for students and faculty.”

Robbinsdale teachers also were very active in the campaign, and received support from Education Minnesota’s local election program.

“Our teachers really stepped up,” said Eckhoff. “Between the resources of Education Minnesota, the local and the teachers, we got the word out, canvassed and phone banked.”

“The unbelievable sophistication of Education Minnesota’s resources made this a success. If people don’t have experience in running a campaign, it can be a heavy lift.”

The Centennial School District passed two questions that will positively impact their teaching and learning environments, including more operational funds to restore previously cut positions and improvements to buildings to increase safety and update aging facilities.

The local union pushed the district to let Education Minnesota help, which Centennial Education Association President Bruce Woznak said was what they needed.

“We would not have passed it without Education Minnesota’s help,” Woznak said. “Once Education Minnesota got involved, our local stepped up. We had 30 percent of our staff help out with the vote yes campaign.”

The elections may be over, but educators now need to hold the newly-elected officials accountable. 

Education Minnesota provides multiple ways for our members to lobby and testify at the Capitol, hold back-home meetings with legislators and stay up to date on the latest legislation and policies being discussed.

Educators are invited to sign up to get involved with advocacy opportunities during the 2019 legislative session and more.