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Tough Lessons: Teachers Fall Short in Midterm Races

After falling short in her race for the state legislature, high school history teacher Jenny Urie returned to her central Kentucky classroom, suddenly doubtful of just how far a grassroots uprising to bolster public education could go.

As massive walkouts over teacher salaries and school funding inspired many teachers to run for office, Urie was among at least 36 current and former educators on the ballot for the legislature in Kentucky. Two-thirds of them lost.

“Maybe,” she said, “people are not as concerned about the future of public education as we might have thought they were. Maybe it hasn’t hit them in their homes yet.”

For educators who ran for office in states including Kentucky, Arizona and West Virginia that saw teachers converge on capitols this year, there were some successes but also disappointments. Still, advocates say, the movement will have lasting effects after pushing education onto the agenda of many midterm campaigns.

But nationwide, polls showed education was not any more of a priority for most voters than in previous years, according to Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at American Enterprise Institute.

“We were awestruck by the energy and the passion that arose in spring. We were awestruck by how successful the teachers were in states like West Virginia, and Oklahoma and Arizona, but if you look simply at the data in terms of what voters were thinking about and saying was a big issue going into the voting booth, there’s little evidence education played a big role,” Hess said Friday during an Educators Writer Association panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington.