In 2018, an eruption of national teacher strikes shuttered schools in deep-red states across America as educators walked off the job over low budgets and stagnant salaries. Then an unprecedented number of teachers ran for political office, aggressively championing public education reform.
But educator activism fell short in Tuesday's elections.
"With the upswing in teacher activism, it initially felt like there was this important shift toward education in the election. But, looking at the results, public opinion didn't make a difference in the states where there were teacher strikes," said Michael Hansen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Democratic challengers backed by teacher activists failed to unseat Republican governors in Arizona and Oklahoma, while ballot initiatives in Oklahoma and Utah were defeated. Though some key governor's races fell their way, notably in Kansas, education activists say overall the victories were overshadowed by losses.
In the Oklahoma race for governor, Republican Kevin Stitt defeated Democrat Drew Edmondson, who promised to raise taxes to increase teacher pay, a plan Stitt rejected. Several teachers who ran for Oklahoma's state house seats also lost.
Alberto Morejon, the middle-school social studies teacher who helped organize the statewide teacher walkout in Oklahoma, said "the results of the governor's race was disappointing." But he added, "We've taken a step in the right direction. We're engaged and fighting back."
In Arizona, which has some of the lowest school funding in the nation, teachers unions failed to oust Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who became a foil for activists during the walkouts. He defeated Democratic challenger and education professor David Garcia by a wide margin. During the race, both candidates claimed the mantle of education champion.