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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In his latest column, “There’s a Reason There Aren’t Enough Teachers in America. Many Reasons, Actually,” New York Times opinion essayist Thomas B. Edsall shares a daunting litany of problems facing teachers, as well as school administrators and parents. These include: “a generalized decline in literacy; the faltering international performance of American students; an inability to recruit enough qualified college graduates into the teaching profession; a lack of trained and able substitutes to fill teacher shortages; unequal access to educational resources; inadequate funding for schools; stagnant compensation for teachers; heavier workloads; declining prestige; and deteriorating faculty morale….Nine-year-old students earlier this year revealed “the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the latest comparison of fourth grade reading ability, the United States ranked below 15 countries, including Russia, Ireland, Poland and Bulgaria.” Edsall quotes from and August 2022 paper, “Is There a National Teacher Shortage?,” Tuan D. Nguyen and Chanh B. Lam, which notes that “We find there are at least 36,000 vacant positions along with at least 163,000 positions being held by underqualified teachers, both of which are conservative estimates of the extent of teacher shortages nationally.” Edsall also writes, “I asked Josh Bleiberg, a professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh, about trends in teacher certification. He emailed back: The number of qualified teachers is declining for the whole country and the vast majority of states. The number of certified teachers only increased in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Washington. Those increases were relatively small and likely didn’t keep up with enrollment increases.” Edsall has more to say about inadequate compensation of teachers, international comparisons, the adverse effects of culture wars, burnout, training and workload. Democrats have long been the more “pro-teacher” party, at least in terms of supporting teacher unions. I hesitate to suggest anything that reduces the supply of qualified teachers even more. But might it be time for Democrats to recruit and help prepare more public school teachers to run for office? Most teachers are already good at speaking to small groups and interacting with parents, good base skills for candidates. Ironically enough, it may take more teachers in politics to get more teachers in schools.

For another view of the political implications of public education issues, check out “Randi Weingarten Explains Why Most People Are Pro Public Education,” Glenn Daigon’s interview of the American Federation of Teachers President at The Progressive. Daigon’s opening question: “Glenn Daigon: The political momentum seemed to be on the right after Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race in 2021. Do you think the midterms saw any shift in the political winds? If so, how do you think the results of the midterm elections will impact education policy both at the local and national level?….Randi Weingarten: Based on data analytics from TargetPoint, Youngkin used the culture wars to win people in rural areas who were very fearful. The culture wars didn’t persuade parents to vote for Youngkin, but they persuaded the elderly to vote for Youngkin. He used it effectively as a divisive tactic. But part of the reason he was successful was that Terry [McAuliffe], made an election-deciding mistake [by] saying, wrongly, that parents don’t have a role in their kids’ education….Parents of course have a role in their kids’ education, and I think what you saw in 2022 was that public education did quite well. Not in all places, but by and large parents want [teachers] to help their kids recover [from the disruption of the pandemic] and thrive by focusing on things that both Republicans and Democrats talk about: reading and literacy; pathways to career and college; and helping kids have confidence again and feel better about themselves….There is an agenda—a true education agenda—that is bipartisan, with perhaps Florida being an exception. But even in Florida, pro-education budgets were passed even though Republican Governor Ron DeSantis won comfortably. In virtually every other state where these issues were hotly contested, the pro-public education governors and legislators won….If you look at Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, and Arizona, where Republican candidates ran on denigrating, defamatory, and demeaning planks; the undermining of teachers and vulnerable students; defunding public education; and all of the culture wars, pro-public education governors won. Those wins were just in states where races were really hotly contested. In less contentious races—in Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and Minnesota—pro-public education governors also won.”

The Progressive’s Weingarted interview also includes this exchange:”Q: Is there a set of any races in the 2022 election cycle where you can point to  moderates and progressives successfully countering the anti-critical-race-theory and anti-LGBT messaging from rightwing education backers?….Weingarten: Take New Hampshire, where they easily reelected Republican Governor [Chris] Sununu, but over the course of several months, every school board member who was elected was a pro-public education school board member. [This was in a state] where Moms for Liberty put $500 bounties on the heads of teachers and where a state school superintendent tried to chill the efforts of teachers to teach honest history—school board races were won by pro-public-education school board candidates.”….In Berrien County, Michigan, which had been electing Republicans since the 1800s—so it is a very red area—twenty-one out of twenty-five extremist school candidates lost their elections. In West Virginia, the anti-public education forces lost two referendums, while at the same time, the state has turned ruby red. In New York State, we saw a lot of Congressional races go to Republicans, but 85 percent of the pro-public-education school board candidates won, and 99 percent of school budgets passed….Sure, in Florida, where DeSantis put hundreds of thousands of dollars into school board races, he won more than he lost because nobody has that kind of money to compete, and most of the time these races are basically locally run races. But by and large, in the marquee races around the country, what you saw was the pro-public-education forces win. And in places where they didn’t, like in South Carolina, I believe you’ll see a lot of resistance develop.”

From Amy Walter’s “What Can Losing ‘22 Dem Candidates Tell Us About ‘24 Priorities?” at The Cook Political Report: “In politics, losing isn’t always a career ender. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both lost U.S. House contests before winning statewide office. President Biden, of course, ran and lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for president twice before his 2020 win. For years, the saying went that in order to win statewide in Ohio you first had to lose. Former Ohio Senators John Glenn, Howard Metzenbaum and George Voinovich all lost at least one senate race in the state before ultimately succeeding….In recent years, however, thanks to the increasing nationalization of our politics, down-ballot candidates can quickly build a brand that goes far beyond the borders of their state.  In 2018, liberal Democrats across the country were wearing BETO for Senate t-shirts and sending contributions to a Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate named Stacey Abrams….Even as they lost their bids, Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams proved that Democrats could turn fast-growing and diverse Sunbelt states blue….Today, however, Democrats’ most lauded loser is a white guy from Ohio who gave Democrats some hope of winning back their blue-collar followers. Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan ran just a couple points ahead of Biden’s showing in the Buckeye state, but his strong campaign operation helped down-ballot Democrats win in key House races in the state….What does Ryan do with his newfound fame? For now, the path to the White House is closed. And, there are no obvious opportunities back home either….In fact, the types of ‘losers’ that Democrats have become attached to in recent years tells us more about what the party is most hopeful or worried about for the upcoming election than it does about the future for these up-and-coming candidates. In 2018, Democrats saw in Abrams and O’Rourke a pathway to opening up the sunbelt. Two years later, Democrats hold both senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, and hold the Governor’s seat in Arizona. At the same time, hopes of turning Texas and Florida blue have been deflated. In 2022, as was the case in 2016, Democrats are more focused on keeping their midwestern bunkers intact. It may not be possible to win back Ohio, but Democrats now see midwestern governors like Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania as their best potential presidential contenders for the near future.”

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