After a tumultuous end to the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly, public school teachers across the state promised to vote for pro-education candidates or run for state office themselves.

Now, less than a week before Kentucky’s May 22 primaries, current or former teachers are gearing up for their first hurdle to keeping that promise.

Eight educators are running for state offices that cover some part of Jefferson County, including both current and former K-12 teachers and college professors.

Insider reviewed the eight candidates’ campaign contributions to get a look at who is funding their campaigns.

Who are the educators running for state office in and around Louisville?

The eight local educators, their race, affiliation and teaching background are:

  • Ronel Brown Sr., House, District 29, Democrat, high school paraeducator
  • Josie Raymond, House, District 31, Democrat, former middle school teacher
  • Tina Bojanowski, House, District 32, Democrat, elementary school teacher
  • Lisa Willner, House, District 35, Democrat, psychology professor at Bellarmine University and Jefferson County Board of Education vice chair
  • Donna Lawlor, House, District 35, Republican, retired teacher
  • Matt Kaufmann, Senate, District 26, Democrat, high school teacher
  • Karen Berg, Senate, District 26, Democrat, former medical school professor at University of Louisville
  • Andrew Bailey, Senate, District 38, Write-in, high school teacher

It should be noted that these aren’t the only pro-education candidates running, but these are those who have taught at some point.

Who is facing competition in the primaries?

Most of the candidates are running unopposed in the primaries, but two are in contested races.

Dr. Lisa Willner

Willner faces Richard Becker and Jack Walker in the House District 35 race. She and Becker are nearly tied for fundraising, with each raising around $53,000 for the primaries, according to campaign contribution records. Walker has raised around $19,000.

In district 25, which covers both Jefferson and Oldham counties, two educators are facing off: Kaufmann and Berg. Berg has raised around $50,000, over four times Kaufmann’s $12,000.

How do they stack up against their opponents?

The teachers generally raise less money than their primary or potential general election opponents, with all of the opponents who have raised money averaging around $47,000 raised and the teachers averaging around $32,000.

However, two of the general election opponents, incumbents Ernie Harris and Dan Seum, each have raised over $100,000 as they have been collecting donations for longer time frames. With those two removed, the average drops to around $23,000 for the teachers’ opponents.

Generally, the teachers and their opponents saw mostly individual contributions, while incumbents had more donations from political action committees.

Who raised the most out of the educators?

Out of the eight running, six of the educators had filed campaign contributions: Lawlor and Bailey (write-in candidates like Bailey don’t need to file). Of those six, Willner raised the most at $53,150.69, followed by Berg and Raymond. Brown raised the least at right under $7,000.

How much the educators have raised thus far. | Graphic by Olivia Krauth

And what about their primary opponents?

Of the two non-educators opposing a teacher in the primaries, Becker raised the most at $53,517.74. Walker raised  $19,484.36.

Graphic by Olivia Krauth

Who is getting the most financial support from teachers?

Despite a push to become more politically active, not a lot of teachers made attributed donations to their peers’ campaigns.

Kaufmann had the most identified donations from teachers, with 20 individual donations identifying themselves as teachers. The teachers also came from at least three districts: Jefferson, Oldham and Henry counties.

However, donations under $100 don’t have to be itemized, so it is possible teachers gave in smaller chunks that aren’t clearly labeled.

What about support from other education heavy hitters?

Bojanowski was the only candidate to receive money from current JCBOE members, with Chris Brady, Willner and Chris Kolb each donating $100. The other board members didn’t donate to candidates for state office.

Chris Kolb

Kolb also donated to Willner’s competitor, Becker, giving him a combined $1,000. Kolb’s wife also donated to Becker’s campaign.

Better Schools Kentucky, the PAC arm of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, donated to Raymond and Kaufmann’s campaigns. The PAC gave each $2,000, the maximum allowed under state law. JCTA president Brent McKim told Insider the BSK donation was incorrectly reported as from the JCTA.

McKim didn’t donate to any of the candidates, but his wife, Jo McKim, gave small amounts to Kaufmann and Bojanowski.

What other notable people or groups donated to teachers?

Plenty of Louisville big names and state legislators donated large and small amounts to the area’s educators-turned-candidates.

Mary Gwen Wheeler

The former Kentucky Board of Education Chair and director of 55K Degrees Mary Gwen Wheeler gave a combined $3,000: $2,000 to Willner and $1,000 to Raymond.

Two Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda (SCALA) members, David Jones Jr. and Sandra Frazier, donated to an educator candidate. Both donated to Willner, with Jones giving $1,000 and Frazier giving $2,000.

Many state legislators donated small amounts, with Mary Lou Marzian donating to four of the five candidates claiming contributions (Kaufmann was the lone one out). Several were one-time donors to Bojanowski, who could face incumbent Phil Moffett in the November general election.

Local attorney Darryl Isaacs gave $2,000 to Brown, making up roughly one-third of Brown’s contribution pool.

Isaacs also gave $2,000 to Berg. Former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson also donated to Berg. 

Other local names appearing on donation lists include Emily Bingham, who donated to Raymond’s and Willner’s campaigns, and Stephen Campbell, who gave $1,000 to Willner. 

What’s next?

Kentucky voters will head to the primary polls May 22. After that, contested campaigns, a few against big incumbents, will begin for many, if not all, of the educator candidates.

Disclosure: David Jones Jr. and Mary Gwen Wheeler are major donors to the nonprofit Insider Media Group.

This post has been updated to reflect that Karen Berg is a former professor, and to clarify that donations under $100 do not need to be itemized.

Correction: Due to incorrect reporting, an earlier version of this story said JCTA donated to Kaufmann’s campaign. Better Schools Kentucky was the donor, and the story has been corrected. 

Before joining Insider Louisville, Krauth was a multiplatform reporter at TechRepublic, where she wrote news stories and features about the intersection of technology and business. Krauth is a graduate of the University of Louisville, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism, with a minor in Russian studies. She completed a prestigious Dow Jones data internship at the Austin American-Statesman last summer. Email Olivia at [email protected]


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