For politically active teachers and parents, the defeat of gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson was the night’s biggest disappointment.
There were other disappointments, too. Two sitting lawmakers who are former educators lost re-election: Rep. Karen Gaddis, D-Tulsa, and Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester.
Among the results, there were bright spots: Educators picked up a few legislative seats and will be heading to the Capitol next year, including House candidate John Waldron in Tulsa and Carri Hicks in Senate District 40 in Oklahoma City. In all, at least 19 educators (current, former or retired) won their races.
In a year in which a teacher walkout shuttered most schools for two weeks in April, and teachers and school staff secured a pay increase, public education was on the minds of voters, although it didn’t necessarily translate into victories for candidates who favored increased education funding.
“Through our education system not being first, we’re not putting our future first … that needs to change,” Shawnee voter Sara Ellis said.
But ultimately, Republican candidates—whose tax-cutting policies contributed to steep cuts to education funding over the past few years—swept every statewide race and prevailed in many legislative races.
“It is such a bittersweet night,” said Angela Little, an Edmond parent who founded the Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Education Facebook group. She said the year has already seen tremendous wins for Oklahoma public education, noting teachers received a pay raise, additional funding for schools, and a number of incumbents were voted out in the primary. “But we have a long way to go,” she added.
Little’s group advocated for Edmondson; the former state attorney general also had the endorsement of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.
Kevin Stitt, a political newcomer and Tulsa businessman, won by more than 140,000 votes.
Stitt’s campaign has said his education-related priorities include additional pay raises for teachers and a signing bonus of $5,000 for teachers entering the profession.
But he is against raising taxes to fund those efforts and has said he would find the money through running a more efficient state government.
One big question is whether Stitt will butt heads with State Superintendent of Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who won re-election Tuesday for her second term.
The state education department’s fiscal year 2020 budget request doesn’t include additional pay raises for teachers but focuses on restoring at least $270 million in state funding to reduce class sizes and improve programs.
“We did not get into this time of eroded funding overnight. The only way we dig out is through strategic gains,” Hofmeister said Tuesday. “I’m eager to have that conversation with new Governor Stitt and continue to make education a priority.”