Education activists fall short in red states in midterm elections

Nearly 1,800 current or former teachers and other education professionals ran for state legislative seats this year, according to NEA data reviewed by CNBC. Many of them came from states that experienced teacher walkouts: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. Oklahoma saw more than 62 educators on the general election ballot. The NEA is still tallying the number of teachers who won their races, but the results did not favor states struggling with education funding.

Democrats hoped to flip state legislatures or Senates in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and West Virginia, all of which experienced teacher walkouts. But with exception of Colorado, Republicans maintained control.

Even in purple states, there were apparent disappointments. The National Education Association and National Federation of Teachers stumped for Democrat Andrew Gillum in the Florida governor’s race. Gillum, who promised to invest heavily in public education and raise teacher pay, conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis on Tuesday. (But that result could be in question. Margins are tightening as votes continue to be counted, which could trigger an automatic recount.)

Underwhelming voter interest in education reform could be attributed partly to the six-month gap between teacher walkouts garnering national media attention and the actual election date, according to Hansen. “Six months later, the education issue just wasn’t as pressing or visible,” he said.

Still, activists and unions savored some key victories on Election Day.

Wisconsin education chief Tony Evers ousted Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the Trump-won state, a victory that activists took as evidence of the might of teacher strength in the elections. The race forced Walker to address his record on education: He has cut funding to public education, and his administration, in 2010, oversaw a law that gutted the state teachers union.

And in Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly narrowly defeated Republican Kris Kobach, who had backed a state law that would require 75 percent of school funding to be spent on classroom instruction. Kelly campaigned on raising education spending and had fought to support a state Supreme Court decision to increase school funding.

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