Thousands of Education Minnesota members contribute $25, separately from regular dues, to the union’s political action committee. If they choose, members are eligible to request that contribution back, but the PAC is one of the union’s main tools to bring educator voice into local and state politics.
“Politicians decide what we teach, how many students we teach and how long you need to teach before you can retire. Everything about our job is political,” said Ternesha Burroughs, Education Minnesota-Osseo president and current PAC chair.
“We are passionate about our profession,” said Heather Matthews, a special education teacher in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and current PAC vice chair. “We became educators for this reason. Our students deserve what they need to be well-educated in our public school system. We are advocating for them. We are advocating for public education. Our strength is in our collective power to do so.”
What does the PAC Board do?
The PAC Board, made up of members from across the state, decides on the campaign plan for each election and how funds will be spent, including the supports for local elections and referendums.
The PAC Board also decides on the endorsement process for candidates. The process now requires candidates to meet with educators from their area for an interview and fill out a questionnaire. All candidates are encouraged to spend time in a school in their area each year. Those educators recommend a candidate for endorsement, who are then approved by the PAC Board.
“It is important for members to know that the PAC has a member from each of our union election districts. These board members are not paid. They are volunteering their time to make decisions that positively impact education in the state of Minnesota. You can contact any member of the PAC with questions, suggestions or clarifications. The board has made many decisions to make its work very transparent and inclusive of our members,” said Matthews. “When there are decisions being made, like an endorsement of a public figure, all voices around the table are heard and respected, even when we may disagree. It has been the guiding principle of the body to respect each other’s voice and make the decisions that are most beneficial to the members we represent, to the educational profession, with transparency, foresight and boldness.“
How is the money spent?
The PAC spends a majority of its money supporting candidates who have been endorsed by Education Minnesota members, but almost half of the budget goes to member organizing and support during statewide and local elections.
Education Minnesota also seeks out support from the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. Due to Minnesota’s important elections as of late, the national unions have also contributed roughly $1 million to support our efforts.
Twenty-five percent of the PAC funding goes specifically to member organizing, including staff support in buildings to share information, our statewide worksite action leader and get-out-the-vote leader programs and paid time for members to talk to each other about what is important to them.
Fifteen percent of the PAC funding goes directly to local elections, a percentage that continues to grow as more and more locals get involved in school board races and levy and bond referendums. Sixty-five locals took part in Education Minnesota’s local elections assistance program from November 2022 to February 2023.
“School board elections, levies, referendums are all political events that affect your personal, local and immediate,” said Burroughs. “Giving to the PAC addresses your local concerns more than your state or national political concerns.”
Why Education Minnesota Jordan got involved in local elections
Education Minnesota Jordan has a history of getting involved in local levy referendum elections. They had a successful bond referendum in 2013, but in 2019, saw another building referendum fail.
“I think our members were surprised that not one of the three questions passed,” said Ansley Peters, a member who worked as a leader on the campaign. “We have a growing community, and our elementary school was bursting at the seams.”
In the spring of 2023, the district was trying again and the local was more motivated than ever to help get a referendum passed.
They worked with Education Minnesota staff and a Vote Yes Committee of union members, other school employees, parents, school board members, local business owners and community members.
“(Education Minnesota) helped to provide a roadmap to passing the referendum and supplied the tools to make phone calls, send mailings and just get our message out,” said Peters.
And then the committee and educators got to work.
“We made phone calls. We utilized social media, and encouraged early voting in our district office. This was really key,” said Peters. “We also were present with information and volunteer sign ups at spring conferences and school sporting events and activities.”
After a lot of hard work, the vote passed this spring and schools in Jordan will be renovated and updated.
“A smaller community like ours may struggle on our own to get something like this passed as there is so much involved in running a campaign,” said Peters. “We believe that all students, regardless of where they live, should have access to safe, secure and healthy facilities to learn in and that takes all of us to pitch in and help make that happen. We are grateful for the support of Education Minnesota and for the funds to help us pass this referendum.”
Is your local interested in getting involved in a school board or local levy election? We can help!
Education Minnesota’s Political Action Committee makes funds available to locals for campaigns. To be eligible, at least 90 percent of a local’s members must be contributing to the Education Minnesota PAC. Qualifying locals are eligible to receive between $7 to $8 per member with some matching local funds. All locals, regardless of size, are eligible for a minimum of $850 per fiscal year.
Education Minnesota is now paying stipends to members to fill Campaign Coordinator and Phone Bank Coordinator positions for locals running campaigns.
Education Minnesota also helps with campaign planning, voter data, equipment for phone banks, design and printing literature and more.
Go to www.educationminnesota.org/advocacy/edmnvotes/local-elections to learn more.