When educators have had enough, we don’t just complain. We campaign.
This is the year of #RedforEd, a movement that teachers and other school professionals are driving for the support that students, educators, and public schools deserve. The strength of that movement from Arizona to West Virginia has compelled an unprecedented number of NEA members to run for elected office. In fact, more educators are running this year than have run in the past 20 years.
They’re especially motivated to run in states where politicians with the wrong priorities have starved public schools year after year and ignored what’s best for students. In Kentucky and Oklahoma, for instance, more than 100 teachers have filed to run for state office.
Educators are running not only to speak up for the resources their schools and students need—you know, like textbooks published in the current century. We are running to make our voices heard in the policy debates that affect our students and ensure our perspective is reflected on every issue.
We are opposing voucher programs that take funding away from students in public schools and shift it to the 10 percent who attend private schools.
We are advocating for smaller classes so that educators can give students the one-on-one attention that leads to understanding and sparks imagination.
And, we are calling for fewer standardized tests because they take valuable time away from teaching and learning, robbing students of the opportunity to grow and develop problem-solving skills.
The NEA is supporting these educators by helping them to learn the nuts and bolts of campaigning, including how to communicate with voters and organize field operations to get out the vote.
Arun Puracken, a social studies teacher, is a candidate for the Prince George’s County, Md. school board. His platform includes reducing school overcrowding, improving maintenance, and expanding restorative justice practices to decrease suspensions.
Krystin Delgardelle Shelley, a middle school teacher in Iowa who won a seat on the Des Moines School Board last year, participated in the training. “I’ve learned that, like most educators, I could do more than I thought I could handle,” she says.
In Kentucky, Denise Gray, a special education paraeducator in Lexington and former lawyer, is running for the state legislature. She says too many people are “making laws about education who have never set foot in the classroom.”
Back in 1998, that same frustration inspired me to run for the U.S. Congress. I was fed up with politicians who hadn’t seen the inside of a school in decades making decisions that affected Utah’s students and educators. I figured it was time that someone whose entire career had been devoted to students joined the fray.
Campaigning was tough. I was prepared for it because teachers are accustomed to burning the candle at both ends, running on empty, doing more with less—insert your favorite saying about taking on way too much. I wound up with 45 percent of the vote, and even though I didn’t win at the polls, we educators achieved a victory: I gave voice to our frustrations and aspirations, and together, we made education a top issue in the campaign.
That’s what the educators running for office right now are doing. Instead of cursing the darkness, they are lighting candle after candle, in state after state. By raising their voices and putting themselves on the line, they are inspiring other educators to do the same and living out their values in a way that makes all of us proud.