Home Minnesota Educator December-January 2023 President’s message: Hope returns after extraordinary election work by educators

Hope returns after extraordinary election work by educators

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Education Minnesota President, Denise Specht

What a difference an election makes.

After an unprecedented effort by Minnesota educators during a midterm election, supporters of public education will now control the state House and Senate. Our endorsed candidate for governor, Tim Walz, will return for a second term.

It’s been nearly 10 years since public education allies were in power and I can’t remember when so many influential individuals were current or former educators, including three of the education committee chairs and the governor himself.

It didn’t happen by accident. In more than 1,000 worksites across Minnesota this year, educators came together at union-organized events to share stories, research the candidates and make plans to vote.

Those meetings showed the creativity of educators. The meeting themes included:

Unlimited bacon, to anyone achin’, to get involved in the democratic process.

Dough-nut forget to vote!

An event with Crumbl cookies was called: “Don’t let democracy crumble.”

Despite all the challenges we’ve faced so far this year, educators still found the energy to creatively motivate and support each other through the democratic process.

We did it because we know public education needs to change and we know how. Within 48 hours of the election results, our union called a news conference to present our E-12 priorities for the next Legislature.

First, we want the time and resources to give every student personal attention. We’re overworked and understaffed at a time when students affected by the pandemic need more from their educators—not less.

Second, students and educators deserve healthy places to learn and work. That means fully staffed mental health teams and a sustainable balance between work and home for educators. It also means buildings with air conditioning, functioning windows and roofs that don’t leak.

Third, every Minnesota student deserves a great educator. Schools across the state don’t provide enough compensation to recruit and retain trained educators, especially educators of color.

And the state needs to improve educator pensions. We need a system that will encourage educators to spend their careers in the classroom until retirement at a reasonable age. What we have now isn’t working.

When those themes are broken down into bills and budgets, it will amount to a multi-year, multi-billion dollar increase for public education. For the first time in a decade, we’re optimistic.

The 2022 elections were also the second year in a row that school board elections were dominated by a national agenda pushed by big money groups.

Educators campaigned for safe, welcoming and effective schools for all, including our LGBTQ+ students.  We worked to preserve the freedom of students to learn a more complete history of the nation, good and bad.

Those values put us in conflict with some candidates and led to some of the most divisive and misleading school board campaigns ever. Even so, the candidates endorsed by local unions won about 60 percent of their races.

In 2023, we need to make sure the politicians who campaigned on fully funding education deliver on their promises. At the local level, we need to help our communities come together after the divisive school board races.

There are good reasons to believe educators can do both and the learning and working environments in our worksites will show it.

Denise Specht
Twitter: @DeniseSpecht

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