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Wave Of #RedForEd Candidates Crashes In The Voting Booth Very Few Teachers Running For State Office In WV, OK, KY & AZ Won On Election Night

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Scores of teachers running for office in four states which were roiled by teacher walkouts earlier this spring were unable to translate the energy and enthusiasm behind those strikes into electoral victories on Tuesday night.

Over the past six months, the dominant narrative in the media has been that the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona signaled a shift in the political landscape of these traditionally conservative, GOP-controlled states. And public education advocates, particularly the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), promised to capitalize on public support for the #RedForEd strikes by electing a wave of educators to state office.


However, an analysis of election returns reveals the predicted wave turned out to be more of a ripple. Of the 130 teachers identified by Education Week as candidates for legislative office in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, only thirteen ended up winning their elections.

Here’s a breakdown of the results in each of the four states…

West Virginia: 7 Losses / 3 Wins

This year’s outbreak of strikes started in West Virginia back in February after the state affiliates of AFT and NEA called on teachers to walkout to demand higher pay and lower health care costs. The ensuing strike shuttered school districts across the state for nearly two weeks until West Virginia lawmakers agreed to fund a 4% across-the-board pay raise and pledged to freeze health insurance premiums.

Although the strike was widely characterized as a big victory for labor, the educators running for office in West Virginia were unable to sustain that momentum into November. Only three of the ten teacher candidates won their elections on Tuesday and one of them was an incumbent lawmaker.

Oklahoma: 60 Losses / 6 Wins

After a decade of stagnant wages and steep cuts in K-12 funding, teachers in Oklahoma brought the state’s public education system to a halt for nine days in April as they swarmed the state capitol to demand a long-overdue pay raise and increased revenue for schools. While state legislators eventually agreed to a $6000 pay boost for teachers and an additional $1250 for support staff, they refused to raise taxes for schools.

However, most of the concessions made by lawmakers were passed before the strike even began, leading some to question whether the walkout really accomplished anything. As Gregg Garn, dean of the college of education at the University of Oklahoma, told the New York Times, “In the long run, if candidates that support education get elected, that’s what will determine who won or lost.”


Unfortunately for teachers, by that measure they lost. Of the sixty-six teachers who ran for legislative office in Oklahoma, only six were elected on Tuesday night. Moreover, any hope that the teachers running for office might boost the number of Democratic seats in the legislature was dashed as four of the six educators elected are Republicans.

Kentucky: 17 Losses / 3 Wins

Although the strikes that rattled Kentucky were less widespread than those in West Virginia and Oklahoma, teachers were still able to compel the GOP-controlled legislature to not only pass a record funding increase for schools, but to override a veto of their budget plan by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.

Teachers flooded the Kentucky State Capitol to demand an increase in funding for schools.

However, as in West Virginia and Oklahoma, support for the teachers strike did not translate into votes for teachers running for state office. Only three of the twenty teacher candidates pulled off a win on Tuesday night – and two of the three were Republicans.

Arizona: 6 Losses / 1 Win

Teachers closed schools across Arizona for five days in a strike over their salaries, which were among some of the lowest in the country. Although they initially demanded a 20% raise from lawmakers, teachers eventually agreed to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s offer of a 19% pay increase spread out over three years.

Ducey easily won reelection on Tuesday with nearly 60% of vote, but it was a very different story for those teachers running for the state legislature: only one of the seven candidates managed to win.

Traditional public education advocates also suffered a loss in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Democratic candidate Kathy Hoffman, a speech therapist from outside Phoenix who was backed by the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Federation of Teachers, was narrowly defeated by her Republican counterpart, Frank Riggs.

Screenshot from the website of the Arizona Secretary of State.

The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal election night for Arizona teachers was the defeat of Proposition 305, a ballot measure that would have vastly expanded the state’s education savings account (a.k.a., voucher) program. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal by a margin of 2-to-1.

Screenshot from the website of the Arizona Secretary of State.

Other Notable Races: Colorado & California

Finally, let’s turn to some notable races in other states, beginning with Colorado, where a series of walkouts closed schools across ten districts over a two-week period, but never became as widespread as in Arizona. The disruptions eventually ended when lawmakers passed a budget that allocated an additional $225 million for the state’s pension system and $150 million for public schools.

Nevertheless, public education advocates suffered some big losses on Election Night. The two teachers running for the Colorado General Assembly both went down in defeat and Amendment 73, a ballot initiative that would have raised $1.6 billion for public schools, was rejected by voters.


Meanwhile, the race for California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, which became a proxy war between charter school supporters and the Golden State’s powerful teachers unions, appears to have tipped in favor of reformers. As of noon today, Marshall Tuck, who has the backing by pro-charter school groups, had a narrow 76,000-vote lead over Tony Thurmond, with over 97% of the ballots counted.

Pro-reform candidate Marshall Tuck (right) has a narrow lead over Tony Thurmond in the race for California State Superintendent of Instruction.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

NOLA

PSA: It’s Millage Time Three School Taxes Are Up For Renewal On October 14th

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Voters in New Orleans will be heading to the polls next month for the first round of several high-profile citywide races. While the contests for mayor and various city council seats have drawn plenty of attention, three important school board millages are also on the ballot (literally at the very bottom, so don’t miss them).

The millage proposal language on an Orleans Parish sample ballot from the Louisiana Secretary of State.

The three proposals simply renew existing property taxes for another decade and will provide our city’s public schools with approximately $38 million annually. Funding from these millages will benefit both charter and traditional schools, whether they’re under the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board or the Recovery School District. If they are not renewed, schools will receive $850 less per student each year, resulting in cuts that will negatively impact our kids.

Public schools in New Orleans have made tremendous gains over the past 12 years and the revenue generated by these taxes will help ensure that progress continues.

That’s why New Orleanians should vote YES on all three school board millage proposals when they head to the polls on October 14th.


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Dark Money Duplicity The Teachers Unions Decry Dark Money, But Spend Plenty Of It

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On Monday, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) announced they had reached a legal settlement with Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy (FESA), a major backer of last year’s failed ballot question to raise the state’s charter school cap, following an investigation that found the group had violated campaign finance laws.

Under the terms of the settlement, FESA paid a $426,466 fine – the largest campaign finance penalty in the Commonwealth’s history – and agreed to dissolve itself. The organization was also forced to reveal its list of donors, which they had previously refused to disclose.

Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy was a 501(c)(4) that supported last year’s ballot initiative to raise the charter school cap in Massachusetts.

As might be expected, the news prompted an outburst of schadenfreude from the teachers unions and their allies, who spent over $15 million to defeat the charter cap proposal. They also seized the opportunity to once again portray charter supporters as nothing more than tools of wealthy political interests.

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, told the Boston Globe, “I’m shocked but not surprised. We always knew that they didn’t want the public to know it was being funded by millionaires and billionaires.”

Meanwhile, the Boston Teachers Union took to social media to revel in FESA’s downfall. On Facebook, BTU shared a statement on the OPCF settlement from “our friends at Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance,” a group which the union just so happens to underwrite.

Plus, Maurice Cunningham, a UMass political science professor and teachers union advocate, penned a widely shared and uber-snarky blog post for WGBH News, in which he called FESA “a dark money front designed to hide millions in contributions from plutocrats,” and said charter supporters “are not poor families eager to improve their children’s schooling but billionaire financiers.”

Let him who is without sin…

The condemnations of “dark money” from the unions and their supporters may not be surprising, but they are certainly hypocritical. Although the teachers unions incessantly decry secretive political spending by their opponents, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and their affiliates have made ample use of dark money to conceal their campaign funding.

Dark money groups are usually 501(c)(4) organizations – or “social welfare organizations” as defined by the IRS – which can spend an unlimited amount to support candidates and issue campaigns. However, since they’re technically supposed to be focused on social welfare activities, they can direct no more than 50% percent of their total spending toward political efforts.

A breakdown of super PACs vs. dark money groups.

Unlike super PACs, dark money groups are not required to disclose the names of their donors and therefore are often used by individuals and organizations to hide their contributions. In fact, super PACs and dark money organizations often work in tandem, allowing donors to secretly fund super PACs through their designated 501(c)(4) organizations.

A hypothetical example of how 501(c)(4) organizations are used to conceal the source of campaign funds.

Ironically, AFT was caught using that very maneuver to influence the outcome of Boston’s mayoral election in 2013. In the final weeks of the campaign, Marty Walsh, the long-time president of the local Laborers union, found himself in a tight race against city councilor John Connolly. Hoping to tip the scales in Walsh’s favor, AFT funneled $500,000 through One New Jersey – an out-of-state 501(c)(4) – to One Boston, a mysterious Massachusetts super PAC behind a last-minute blitz of pro-Walsh TV commercials.

Although Walsh went on to win, AFT was forced to admit it was behind the advertising scheme a month after the election. An OCPF investigation later found that One Boston and One New Jersey violated campaign finance laws. The two groups eventually agreed to a settlement in which they paid a $30,000 fine.

A year later, in December 2015, NEA suffered a similar embarrassment when an administrative court judge in Colorado ruled that Jeffco United, a 501(c)(4) behind an effort to recall three school board members in the state’s largest district, violated campaign finance laws by failing to register as a political action committee. When he ordered the organization to reveal its donor list, it showed that NEA and two of its affiliates had contributed $283,500 to Jeffco United, or about 99% of the total raised by the organization.

But the teachers unions’ forays into the realm of dark money are not limited to local elections. AFT and NEA have contributed to some of the biggest and most secretive liberal dark money groups in the country. The most prominent of these is Patriot Majority USA, a dark money group that spent over $30 million on political campaigns in 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity. While Patriot Majority USA is not required to disclose its donors, Department of Labor filings show that AFT and NEA have given at least $2 million to the organization since 2014.

Screenshot of Patriot Majority USA’s webpage.

AFT and NEA have also given at least $1.7 million to America Votes, another 501(c)(4) with deep pockets and close ties to the Democratic Party. America Votes refused to answer questions about its donors for an article published by Center for Public Integrity last year, but managing director Sara Schreiber did issue a statement that said: “As per its IRS designation as an issues-based advocacy organization, America Votes is not required to publicly disclose its donors.”

There are no innocents

Of course, none of this excuses Families For Excellent Schools-Advocacy’s actions during last year’s ballot question campaign in Massachusetts; there is never an excuse for violating the law. If anything, education reformers need to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard – even in the rough-and-tumble world of electoral politics – since the entrenched interests we’re battling are watching and waiting to pounce.

At the same time, the self-righteous posturing by the teachers unions and their allies over dark money deserves to be called out. The sad truth is that both sides of the education debate exploit the loopholes and gray areas in campaign finance law to their advantage, which over the long run only erodes people’s trust in our political system. The public begins to view the entire process as rigged in favor of shadowy, powerful interests and they stop believing that elected officials speak for them.

And when that happens, no one wins… except Donald Trump.

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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