- In the 2022 elections, voters overwhelmingly supported candidates who articulated a clear, positive message about public education.
- Parents and voters explicitly rejected extreme politicians who "engaged in the politics of division,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.
- Educators played an active role. They were trusted sources of information about the election, and some even ran for office and won.
Update: Since this article was posted, several additional critical races have been called in favor of the pro-public education, pro-democracy candidates. Democrats will remain in control of the U.S. Senate.
In Nevada, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto fended off challenger Adam Laxalt to keep her seat in the U.S. Senate. Cortez Masto supported the American Rescue Plan, which provided more than $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. She also supports the protection and expansion of voting rights. Laxalt, meanwhile, led Donald Trump’s effort to overturn Nevada’s 2020 presidential election results.
Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona—who believes in public schools and has worked to get them the resources they need—won re-election to the U.S. Senate. He defeated Trump-backed Blake Masters, who opposes teachers unions, demonized educators on the campaign trail, and touts anti-LGBTQ policies.
Arizona voters also elected a new governor: Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of State of Arizona and a former social worker whose respect for public school educators earned her the recommendation of the Arizona Education Association. Hobbs defeated Kari Lake, a former news anchor and Trump-backed candidate who has used her public platform to sew disinformation about the 2020 election results.
If every election tells a story, then the tale of the 2022 midterm elections is one in which our protagonists—the voters—defied conventional wisdom to defend what they believe in most: their kids, their public schools, and their communities.
Voters headed to the polls at historically high rates, and in key local, state, and federal races, they elected candidates who articulated a clear, positive message about public education.
Overall, the election results demonstrate widespread support for public schools, many of which are dealing with the effects of the nationwide educator shortage. It was a relief to millions of educators and parents that many candidates espousing dangerous plans to hurt public schools, students, and the teaching profession were defeated.
“Parents and voters explicitly rejected extreme politicians who engaged in the politics of division, politicizing our classrooms, banning books, dragging their culture wars into our public schools, and pushing failed privatization schemes,” said NEA President Becky Pringle.
“Voters understand the real issues impacting students—the need for more academic and mental health support, the need to solve the educator shortage by providing educators professional compensation, and the need to fully fund public education,” Pringle said.
Support for Public Education Showed at the Polls
Voters defied the typical midterm election storyline: They proved they were neither apathetic nor casting their ballots in knee-jerk fashion against the party occupying the White House.
Turnout was high, and so were rates of educator engagement, building on the momentum of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election, both of which saw historic educator participation. Hundreds of thousands of educators and other dedicated public employees got involved in this election, sharing their perspectives on how the election could affect their students and schools.
As election results rolled in, NEA members enthusiastically reported on the races that mattered most to them:
“The president of the Iowa Senate was defeated!” said Bettendorf High School teacher Mary Heeringa on Thursday. Heeringa embraces the change, in part because last year, Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman accused public school teachers of having a “sinister agenda” in teaching children about gender. He also expressed support for vouchers. By contrast, the winner of that election, state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriot, said she would work to increase public education funding and speak out against “mean-spirited attacks” on educators.
Idaho teacher Whitney Montgomery was thrilled to share that fellow teacher and union member “Soñia Galaviz won her legislative seat! She is an amazing teacher, advocate and human,” Montgomery said. “Idaho public schools gained an advocate at the statehouse.”
“Getting new members involved in political organizing work helped to get one of our endorsed school board candidates elected and prevent a right-wing extremist sweep,” said Leah Hood, a high school social studies teacher in Lakeville, Minn.
Election Results Tell an Inspiring Story
In these and scores of key races across the country, candidates who had an authentic pro-public education message were victorious.
The theme of this election is clear: Voters want elected leaders to focus on the real issues affecting their schools and communities, including the educator shortage crisis and school funding to expand opportunities for all students.
A September survey conducted by NEA showed that the vast majority of U.S. voters share the same concerns about public education today no matter their political affiliation. They care about repairing school buildings and paying teachers fairly; they believe students should be able to access mental health supports when they need them
The nationwide poll of 1,000 likely voters was split evenly among Democrats (30 percent), Republicans (31 percent), and Independent or independent-leaning (38 percent). Roughly one-third were parents of school-age children.
Nowhere was voter support for public education more visible than in state and local elections. In federal elections, too, pro-public education candidates outperformed expectations in many races. (As of this writing, three U.S. Senate races and a handful of House races had not yet been called.)
The following examples are just a few that show how candidates with positive education platforms and strong records of supporting educators, parents, and students beat extreme candidates who were more interested in stoking culture wars than solving real issues:
Wisconsin’s governor’s race was predicted to be one of the closest in the country. But former educator and public education champion Gov. Tony Evers handily defeated opponent Tim Michels, a businessman who promoted vouchers and whitewashing the curriculum, stating during a rally in September that public schools “are indoctrinating our children” in how they teach students about race and racism. Evers called out Michels’ anti-LGBTQ and racially charged language during the campaign.
Meanwhile, Evers’ pro-public schools record speaks volumes. He has worked with both parties in the state legislature to boost K-12 and higher education funding. He has included educators in defining priorities, and he has fought for mental health supports and broadband access for all students. He also blocked bad bills that would have censored teachers and opened the floodgates to vouchers.
State Attorney General Josh Kaul, who earned the recommendation of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, won a second term.
Michigan voters not only re-elected their education-focused governor, they cast their ballots in favor of historic change, and now have pro-public education majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made education the centerpiece of her re-election campaign, and soundly defeated challenger Tudor Dixon by more than 10 percentage points. Whitmer had an extensive record to tout coming into the 2022 election; her administration made the largest investment in K-12 education in Michigan history. In so doing, they reduced school funding gaps between wealthy and poorer districts and reduced class sizes.
Whitmer also vetoed dozens of bills that amounted to partisan attacks on public schools, including a school voucher plan backed by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Dixon, who was hand-picked by DeVos, promoted voucher schemes and focused on false claims of educator “indoctrination” while attacking LGBTQ+ youth on right-wing media. She was a supporter of Donald Trump’s election denial and had his backing during her campaign.
“Michiganders sent a clear message this election by rejecting extremism and instead voting for leaders who will work with educators—not against us,” said Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart. In addition to re-electing Whitmer, “that includes re-electing Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, installing pro-public education majorities in the State House and Senate, and electing friends of public education to school boards across the state,” Herbart said.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro defeated Doug Mastriano, a state senator who proposed cutting per-pupil spending by nearly half and instituting school vouchers. Mastriano’s plan did not sit well with educators and parents.
“Shapiro’s strong showing on Election Day makes it clear that Pennsylvanians aren’t interested in proposals to cut billions in public school funding and redirect it to voucher schemes,” said Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey. “They know that those kinds of ideas would end up dismantling the public schools in their communities.”
Those same voters took a clear stand in their U.S. Senate race, electing Lt. Gov. John Fetterman over Dr. Mehmet Oz. Where Fetterman believes in addressing the educator shortage and paying educators fairly, Oz supported privatization schemes that spend public tax dollars on private charter schools. Where Fetterman supports unions—and even joined educators on picket lines in Scranton and Harrisburg when they were fighting for fair contracts—Oz took swings at educator unions for following CDC guidelines in the effort to return to in-person learning during the pandemic.
Wes Moore became Maryland’s first Black governor and only the third black governor in U.S. history. During his campaign, Moore pledged to work to combat childhood poverty, listen to educators, and support unions.
Moore beat out Dan Cox, a far-right Republican with the backing of Donald Trump. Cox was such an extreme candidate that some Republican leaders in the state abandoned him and put their support behind Moore.
A number of other candidates recommended by the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) won their races, including comptroller candidate Brooke Lierman and attorney general candidate Anthony Brown.
Across the state, MSEA members knocked on doors, made calls, and handed out nearly 400,000 Apple Ballots to let community members know which candidates deserved their votes.
Gov. Tim Walz, a former public high school teacher and NEA member, handily won re-election. He will enjoy pro-public education majorities in both chambers of the state legislature come January, thanks in large part to educator advocacy for candidates backed by Education Minnesota.
Walz’s record of supporting the state’s public schools is impressive: Over the past four years, he increased education spending by $1.2 billion, including the largest per pupil increase in 15 years. His administration supports a $25 an hour minimum wage for education support professionals.
Walz has fostered strong ties with educators and respect for unions. “He actually listens to us,” said Marty Scofield, a State Residential Schools teacher and Education Minnesota member. “He understands that funding is a systemic issue and essential to improve the quality of our schools, which would benefit our students and our profession, but also our communities.”
Walz beat challenger Scott Jensen, a family physician known for his vaccine skepticism and endorsed by Trump.
More Wins for Public Education
Other pro-public education candidates who won governor’s races include incumbent Governors Laura Kelly (Kansas), J.B. Pritzker (Ill.), Janet Mills (Maine), Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), Brad Little (Utah), Jared Polis (Colo.), Ned Lamont (Conn.), Gavin Newsom (Calif.), Daniel McKee (R.I.), and Kathy Hochul (N.Y.) as well as Governors-elect Maura Healey (Mass.), Josh Green (Hawaii), Tina Kotek (Ore.).
In New Hampshire, Sen. Maggie Hassan was re-elected to the U.S. Senate. Hassan has supported student loan forgiveness and pandemic relief efforts for schools, and took on former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her harmful policy proposals. Hassan beat opponent Don Bolduc, a one-time 2020 election denier and staunch supporter of Donald Trump who shared a hoax claim that children were allowed to identify as cats and use litterboxes at school.
Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, a former educator-turned-Senator who currently serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, won her race by a resounding 14 percentage points.
Former teacher (and 2016 National Teacher of the Year) U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (Conn.) was re-elected. “As a former educator, she’s committed to getting all students the funding and resources they need to live in their brilliance,” said NEA President Becky Pringle of Hayes’ victory.
In Ohio, Greg Landsman, a former teacher and early education advocate, flipped a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, beating incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot. The Ohio Education Association recommended Landsman. OEA also backed three candidates who beat conservative opponents for seats on the State Board of Education: Teresa Fedor, Tom Jackson, and Katie Hofmann, who each expressed opposition to engaging in culture war fights over student bathroom assignments and controlling the teaching of race in the classroom.
Scores of school board successes
Each year, NEA and its 50 state and 14,000 local affiliates recommend thousands of pro-public education school board candidates across the nation.
Most of these elections take place in the spring or in off-year elections. But among current races that NEA is tracking across the nation, 71 percent of school board candidates recommended by NEA’s affiliates have won, so far.
“Both of our endorsed school board members were elected,” said Ryan Fiereck, an elementary school educator and president of Education Minnesota-St Francis. His members contacted roughly 2,000 local residents to support their pro-public education candidates.
All five school board candidates backed by Education Austin, a local affiliate of the Texas State Teachers Association, won their races. That means five of the nine board members are now former educators. Winners include Andrew Gonzales, a third-generation educator and proud graduate of the Austin Independent School District. His platform, which focused on improving learning conditions for special needs and economically disadvantaged students, resonated with voters.
NEA members also ran for local school boards in Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, and Wyoming, among other states.
Ballot measures united voters
Another essential way that NEA members support public education and our communities is through ballot measures, which allow voters to directly approve or reject a piece of proposed legislation.
In this regard, Election 2022 saw some positive outcomes, including:
“In Massachusetts, we got a Yes on Question 1,” said Nellie Taylor, a union member and employee of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “We have taxed the rich and the money goes directly to public schools and colleges as well as transportation!” Voters passed the Fair Share Amendment, which institutes progressive taxes on the very wealthy to better fund critical public services. Only about 1 percent of the state’s richest residents will be affected, yet the measure will generate roughly $2 billion each year.
In Illinois, voters enshrined the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, making Illinois the first state in the nation to essentially ban so-called “right to work” laws that weaken unions. Illinois Education Association members worked hard to educate members of their community about the value of the measure. In the month before the election, high school teacher Gabriel Gancarz contacted roughly 1,000 voters by phone and by text. “We're about to become only the fourth state in America to make collective bargaining rights part of our constitution,” he said. “Hooray!!!”
Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters in New Mexico came together to approve a constitutional amendment that will bring a massive infusion of funding for early childhood and K-12 public education. The state legislature’s Legislative Finance Committee estimates that $84.6 million would go to public education and $126.9 million would be allocated for early childhood education next year.
West Virginia voters rejected Constitutional Amendments 2 and 4, which would have removed local control of taxing authority and shifted education policy decisions from the state board of education to the legislature. The West Virginia Education Association identified these measures as an attempted “power grab from the legislature to reward large corporate donors and to continue their assault on public education and education employees.”
“Local control is one of the cornerstones of our county government and local school system,” said WVEA President Dale Lee.
“Our members and coalition partners have worked tirelessly this fall to deliver our message and explain the consequences for our communities and schools if the amendments were to have passed. We thank the voters for supporting us.”