Support for public education shines in 2019 election results

Voters in all parts of Minnesota headed to the polls Nov. 5 to vote for school building and operating referendums, as well as school board elections.

The results show that Minnesotans are willing to step up and have their voices heard when it comes to public education and support for the students and educators in their communities.

About 70 districts had referendum elections, with 80 percent of districts passing at least one of their questions. A majority passed all of their referendum questions. Final results of a few elections are still pending.

But the ever-increasing number of levies each fall and spring asking residents to raise their taxes to fund schools is not sustainable, said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht.

“Every successful referendum shifts a little more of the burden for paying for public education to Main Street Minnesotans when the multi-millionaires and most powerful corporations already aren’t paying their fair share,” Specht said. “Every operating levy is a sign of policy failure at the state and federal levels. This is especially shocking when you remember the wealthiest few are enjoying massive tax breaks doled out by the federal government just two years ago.”

And Specht used the 2019 election results as a call to action in 2020 and beyond.

“Parents, educators and community members are joining together to demand the resources necessary to provide every child – no matter what they look like, where they were born, or their ZIP code – with a great education that prepares them for a successful life,” Specht said. “We saw it with referendums and school board races last night. We’re going to see it again on Election Day 2020.”

Local unions were on the front lines in many of the elections, either endorsing school board candidates or supporting referendums.

“As the teachers union, we want candidates that are union-friendly and support our right to bargain,” said Education Minnesota/Edina President Tom Connell. “But we also want candidates who understand that a robust teachers union can add value to the district, students and community.”

Education Minnesota/Edina endorsed three candidates, all of whom won, this fall. The union has endorsed candidates in past years, but made their process more intentional this year, said Connell.

“We invited all the candidates to participate like we always do, but when we sent them the timeline and questionnaire, we also included our selection criteria, which are the values of our union,” he said. “Our screening committee also went to public forums, looked at candidate finance reports and did interviews with the four candidates who turned in their questionnaire.”

The union also did more in support of their endorsed candidates, adding a literature drop and texting to their usual postcard campaign announcing their support.

“We realized how powerful it was to get out there and be in the neighborhoods,” Connell said. “We had more than 90 people come out – teachers, their families, parents. It was a really energizing experience.”

The union made sure that when they talked about the candidates, they reminded voters why they were being supported.

“And I’m hearing that our work made a difference,” Connell said. “We hope these candidates will restore a partnership with the board and the teachers.”

Getting out in the community more was the same tactic that Todd Andrix and the Owatonna Education Association took with their referendums to build a new high school and renovate the existing high school. The district has tried to pass a building referendum multiple times in the past with no success, but passed both questions this fall.

“In the past we had just handed a check over to the Vote Yes committee,” said Andrix. “But after the vote failed last spring, we said we needed to do things differently.”

The union worked in partnership with the Vote Yes committee and got the committee involved like never before.

“We did phone banking, door knocking – just a lot of conversations,” said Andrix. “We had the Chamber of Commerce president making phone calls, sitting next to union members.”

Andrix said making connections with key influencers in the community, such as pastors, small business owners and realtors, was big. They asked teachers who lived in parts of the community that had voted no in the past to talk with their neighbors.

“To win, it’s more than just money,” said Andrix. “You have to have the people and you have to work the plan.”

“We made over 13,000 contact attempts this fall. Last spring we talked to just over 3,000 people.”

Education Minnesota offers funding and resources to local unions for election work. 

Of the levies that the union helped support, 92 percent passed at least one question, and all of them elected a majority of their endorsed school board candidates.

If your district has a referendum in the next year, please contact Jim Meyer. For school board race assistance, contact Anna Brelje.