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The DNC Says ‘Education Is on the Ballot.’ Here’s What That Does and Doesn’t Mean

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 30, 2018 2 min read

Democrats think 2018 is their year, and they’re using education—and educators—to make their case.

On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee highlighted teachers and others with education connections who are running for Congress and other elected offices. The committee said Dems are “running and winning by making education central to their campaigns” and that these candidates “want better pay for teachers and better schools for every child.” They also highlight the teacher protests in states like Arizona and Oklahoma as another factor.

Among the candidates they point to are Jahana Hayes, the nation’s 2016 Teacher of the Year who is running to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives, and David Garcia, who’s the Democratic nominee in the Arizona governor’s race. They also highlight the hundreds of teachers who are running for office, as well as an Alaska education advocate, Alyse Galvin, who was motivated to run in part because of her opposition to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Let’s break down some of how education is playing a role in the 2018 election that Democrats are hoping is a “blue wave.”

• Hayes beat a competitor, Mary Glassman, in the Democratic primary, and it was Glassman, not Hayes, who had the backing of the Democratic establishment in Connecticut’s 5th District race. (Glassman beat Hayes in the fundraising game by hundreds of thousands of dollars, for example.) So it’s not as if a candidate’s teacher credentials are a guarantee of party support in primaries.

• The DNC’s point of highlighting educators running is well taken: There’s an “unprecedented wave” of teachers seeking office, as our colleague Madeline Will wrote in July. And high-profile walkouts have clearly played a role.

But being a teacher doesn’t exempt you from losing. In our tracker of teachers who are running for office this year in the wake of several teacher walkouts, you’ll see that more than 50 of the teacher candidates have lost their primaries, out of 158 total teacher candidates. Well over half of those losing candidates were in Oklahoma, where one of the most protracted and intense walkouts took place.

Oklahoma is a GOP-dominated state to be sure. And the vast majority of the teachers we’ve identified as candidates are Democrats. But teachers who seek office aren’t necessarily opposed to Republican politicians. Nearly a third of educators (29 percent) voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, according to our survey of educators’ perceptions Education Week released late last year.

• Garcia has run for statewide office before: He lost the general election for Arizona superintendent to Republican Diane Douglas in 2014, in a year that turned out to be not particularly good for Democrats. We profiled Garcia in 2014.

The DNC notes that Garcia is opposed to the universal education savings accounts signed into law last year by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey. (The DNC calls these “vouchers” but that’s off-base.) After a failed push to repeal the law earlier this year, voters will decide in November whether to keep or scrap it.

Photo: Jennifer Esau, center, an Oklahoma teacher who is running for a state Senate seat, talks with Sandra Yost in Claremore, Okla., as she and her 16-year-old daughter Isabelle, right, canvass her district for votes earlier this month. Esau was unopposed in her primary. (Brandi Simons/Education Week)


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