By Tammy Berlin and Emilie McKiernan Blanton
Those of us who are passionate about public education have been heavily invested in this election for many months now. We’ve spent countless hours knocking on doors and volunteering for our endorsed candidates, and we’ve had innumerable conversations with everyone we come in contact with about why public education should be their number one voting issue on election day. I know it can be exhilarating when the candidate that we have worked so hard to support wins, but this is specifically not the time for us to gloat or rest on our laurels. While we now have a pro-public education governor, we lost every other statewide race. We are in a precarious position and must move forward together. Read on to find out what we can do that will help us continue to win the battles in the War on Public Education.
We must continue to fight on the issues.
Teachers remain one of the most trusted professional groups. The annual Gallup poll on the nation’s most honest and ethical professions (Gallup.com, 2017) shows that two-thirds of Americans have a high degree of trust and confidence in public school teachers. We are the people who know every child by name, and who love them and care for them as our own. When we speak with passion and conviction about our students, the public takes notice and stands behind us. We can make a difference by continuing to fight on the issues. We can fight and win on school funding, we can fight and win on class size, we can fight and win on equity, we can fight and win universal pre-K, we can fight and win the wrap around and support services that our students need, and we can fight and win on the working conditions, including salaries, benefits, and high-quality professional training, that help us attract and retain excellent educators to the profession. The key to all of this is to make sure that we are always advocating first and foremost for our students. Our work environment is our students’ learning environment, and our students deserve no less than the best.
We must continue building relationships with legislators.
Regardless of which side of the aisle they are on, most legislators care about education and are interested in your opinions as a constituent and especially as an educator. If you have never had a personal one on one conversation with your legislators, now is the perfect time to start. Once the legislative session begins on January 7, your legislators will be occupied with their responsibilities in Frankfort, but between now and then you’ll be able to find them at home in their communities. There’s no time like the present to make an appointment with them to talk about what they can do to support students and public school employees. Bipartisan support is crucial to moving our issues. Even if your legislator is not someone who has been a reliable vote for public education in the past, it’s important to reach out to them for a conversation. Make a list of the issues that you want to talk about, and remember to frame the conversation in terms of how we can work together to support students.
Before you meet with your legislator, you should take the time to look over the pre-filed bill summaries on the Legislative Research Commission website. Searching the bills by heading allows you to see which bills are related to education and public schools. If you take the time to read over bill summaries before you talk to your legislator, you can arm yourself with information and help shape their opinion on the issues before the session begins. Be aware that not every bill that is pre-filed will move during the session. If you have a proactive conversation with your legislator before the session begins, your conversation could make a difference in whether or not good bills progress and bad bills die.
We must frame our discourse to bridge the urban-rural divide in Kentucky.
Whether to cheer for red or blue isn’t the only issue that divides us as Kentuckians. Many of us have found ourselves at odds with friends or family over this election. It’s time to engage in civil discourse with our neighbors across the state about the things that we all agree on: We need to shift our focus to investing in our infrastructure, career and technical training, real solutions to the opioid epidemic, and expanding our citizens’ access to healthcare and mental health resources. Let’s put our differences aside and work with our neighbors across the state to make a better future. Today’s a new beginning with new opportunities. Let’s work together and make the most of it.
We must hold the line
We must keep the seats currently occupied by pro-public education legislators and work to add more elected officials who value public education. If legislators won’t value public education, we need to find a way to find others who will. Endorsed candidates who value public education need the full support of public educators and our advocates.
While Andy’s win was sweet, we cannot let this become a time when we lose focus. We have shown that we will Remember in November. We have to keep remembering every November. We have to keep showing up for our students. We have to keep voting like our kids’ lives depend on it. Because they do.