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Educators’ legislative bids fall short
Kentucky School Advocate
December 2018

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

Educators across the state pledged to Remember in November, but based on the outcomes of the Nov. 6 election, many forgot. 

“It was just amnesia,” Renee Shaw, host of KET’s Kentucky Tonight, said during the show’s recap of the 2018 election.  

Spurred to action by changes to the state pension system and what they deemed a war on public education, this spring thousands of teachers and education advocates flocked to protests at the Capitol. 

Then several decided to run for a seat in the state legislature. In all, 53 candidates for Kentucky House and Senate seats in the general election had some tie to education. The candidates included retired and active teachers, higher education employees and current and former school board members.
Apple graphic But when the ballots were counted just 14 – seven Democrats and seven Republicans – won election. 

The pension bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature appeared to have little impact. Of the 49 Republican legislators who voted for the bill and ran for re-election, only four of them lost, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Eight lawmakers – including five Republicans – who voted against the pension bill were defeated in either the primary or general election. 

“There was a lot of emotion going on at the end of the session exacerbated by Bevin’s remarks about teachers,” said Al Cross, political columnist and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “I think teachers cared a lot more about those remarks than they did about contents of the bill that ultimately passed.” 
Election winners with education ties He said most of the bill’s changes to the pension system had a bigger impact on future teachers than current ones and, by November, much of the education energy seemed to have faded. 

“There could very well have been more energy out there from teachers than we realize, but I think it was outweighed by the energy that the president generated for Republicans by making the election about him and turning out his base, I think that had an influence in legislative races,” he said. 

In many legislative races, Republicans tied their opponents to the national Democratic party using the candidacy form they sign, which says candidates are members of the party and “intend to support its principles and policies.” 

For example, in the Sixth District House race, retired Marshall County teacher Linda Story Edwards was targeted with a mailer saying she signed a pledge “to support the Nancy Pelosi/Hillary Clinton agenda,” Cross said. Edwards lost the race. 

When the next legislative session begins in January, there will be 61 Republicans and 39 Democrats in the House, and 28 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the Senate. 

Though Republicans will have a supermajority, Cross believes they will be cautious. 

“They don’t want to do anything in the short session that will gin up this teacher ire,” he said. 

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has announced that he will seek charter school funding this session. Because this session is not a budget session, any appropriation would require a supermajority. 

“I think there are still enough Republican skeptics of charter schools that that bill might be difficult to pass,” Cross said. 

But Lewis has said he’s not requesting new money for charter schools, but instead wants the legislature to create a funding mechanism in statute that would allow current funding to follow the student. Statutes require a simple majority. 

“I still think they would have to get some Democratic votes to pass that,” Cross said, “and I don’t see Democrats voting for something like that.” 

School board members join legislature
Two current local school board members, Ed Massey and Lisa Willner, won seats in the state House. 

Massey, a Republican who is former president of the Kentucky School Boards Association, was able to fend off an independent candidate backed by Gov. Matt Bevin to win the seat vacated by Addia Wuchner, who did not run for re-election.

Massey, who has served on the Boone County school board for 21 years, will be joined by Democrat Lisa Willner, a Jefferson County board member, who beat Republican Donna Lawlor to take the seat vacated by longtime Rep. Jim Wayne who did not seek re-election.

They join Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, a former Kentucky School Boards Association president and former Allen County school board member, who kept his 22nd District House seat. 

Superintendent nets House seat
One superintendent will be joining the legislature in January. Ohio County Superintendent Scott Lewis, a Republican, was successful in his bid to represent the 14th House District. 

Lewis believes his experience serving 13 years as superintendent will help when legislators talk about school budgets and funding charter schools.

“Are they going to try to fund that this session when we’re already saying we don’t have funding for what we have? There’s only so much money for so many students so when those students go to these charter schools, it is less money for the public schools,” he said. 

Lewis hopes that there were enough public education proponents who won election this year to change the discussion about public education, including pensions, in the state House. 

“We have to find a way to fund public education,” he said. “And not that that’s the only issue, but right now that’s the pressing issue. We owe the people that educate our kids, we owe them a decent retirement. And they’re underpaid. We’ve got to do better in order for us to attract quality applicants.”

Other educator wins 
Many of the Democratic wins came in Louisville where special education teacher Tina Bojanowski upset incumbent Phil Moffett, a Republican. Democrat Josie Raymond, a former middle school teacher and current academic coach at the University of Louisville, won the House District 31 seat left open by Steve Riggs, who did not seek re-election. 

Outside of Louisville, Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham, a retired Frankfort Independent teacher, retained his 57th District seat. In House District 91, Hazard Community and Technical College teacher Cluster Howard beat Republican incumbent Toby Herald. Another community college professor, Democrat Jim Glenn, beat Republican incumbent DJ Johnson by just one vote in the 13th District. That race was undergoing a recanvassing at press time. 

Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, a Taylor County teacher and administrator, retained his seat easily against write-in candidate Richard Steele, who ran on a pro-education agenda.

Educator vs. Educator 
In a few races, both candidates had an education tie. For example, Rockcastle County math teacher Travis Brenda, who defeated 71st District incumbent Jonathan Shell in the Republican primary, won against Madison County school board member Mary Renfro.
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