This article has been updated.
In a statement win in what has been called the “year of the educator,” teacher Tina Bojanowski unseated Republican representative incumbent Phil Moffett, who many public education supporters considered a top target after this year’s legislative session.
In a word, co-founder of Save Our Schools KY Gay Adelmann called Moffett’s relationship with public education “contentious.”
“He’s been a longtime critic of JCPS, often blaming shortcomings on unions, student assignment and spending decisions, instead of acknowledging the role his own legislature has played in cuts to funding and overemphasis on high-stakes test scores,” Adelmann said of Moffett.
Virginia Woodward, Bojanowski’s campaign manager, called her win in District 32 a “turning of the page in Frankfort” Tuesday night.
Bojanowski wasn’t the only Louisville-area educator to win Tuesday. Two other local current or retired educators picked up state legislative seats as teachers and their allies tried to make good on their promise to “remember in November.”
Jefferson County Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Lisa Willner beat retired teacher Donna Lawlor by double digits to earn the state representative spot in District 35. The former middle school teacher Josie Raymond also won, becoming the state representative for District 31.
“We need to change the culture in Frankfort, and I think that increasing the number of educators’, women’s and younger people’s voices represents a good start,” Willner said.
Educators throughout the state vowed to vote for pro-public education candidates if not teachers themselves after the Republican legislature turned a sewer bill into a pension bill at the eleventh hour last spring.
The change, along with low funding for public schools and a fear of funding charter schools, caused protests in Frankfort, nicknamed “sickouts” as teachers would use sick days en masse to shut down districts.
Educator candidates fell short statewide, though. Only 14 of the 51 educators or school board members running for office won their seats, with two of those subject to a recount. Many ran as Democrats, flipping a few seats — like Bojanowski’s — but Republicans maintained control.
“Educators will never stop advocating to ensure we have well-funded, quality public schools in every zip code in Kentucky,” Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said in a statement.
“And we will continue to command respect for our dedicated public school teachers and education support professionals who work for Kentucky’s children every day. Educators across the state are more activated and inspired than we have seen in decades, and that didn’t end on Nov. 6.”
Kentucky educator candidates mirrored a national trend of increased focus on public education. Of roughly 1,800 candidates with classroom ties nationwide, “a bulk” of them came from states like Kentucky where teachers protested reduced funding, low salaries and pensions earlier this year, the National Education Association said.
“Lawmakers learned an important lesson tonight: You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a news release.