A movement to mobilize a group of underrepresented voters is targeting what some may consider to be a surprising demographic — teachers.
Though they are educated and heavily impacted by the decisions made by elected officials, teachers say they are less likely to vote in November than those outside of the profession.
As a result, Tucson Values Teachers and Expect More Arizona have partnered on an initiative dubbed “Vote 4 Education,” which encourages Arizonans to vote and make education a priority when they do.
As part of a pilot program, the groups are reaching out to educators within the Tucson Unified School District — visiting them on campus, through social media and by mailers — in an effort to encourage them to make their voices heard by voting.
Key races that impact teachers this year include governor, state superintendent of public instruction, the legislature and school governing boards.
“There is so much at stake this election and we want teachers to stand up and vote for education,” said Katie Rogerson, interim executive director for Tucson Values Teachers.
Added Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, “The key to positive change in education for our state begins with the people who know education the best — teachers. We hope to see an increase in participation not only from TUSD teachers, but from educators throughout the state.”
While the Vote 4 Education initiative does not endorse specific candidates, it does encourage educators to learn about the issues and learn where candidates stand on excellent teachers, literacy and early learning, higher academic standards and higher education and career training for all. It encourages teachers to make informed decisions at the ballot box.
“Your vote really does matter,” Rogerson told a group of about 30 educators at Utterback Magnet Middle School on Wednesday. “Teachers are the largest voting bloc in the state by profession, and also in the nation. So imagine if all teachers turned out — they could really rock the vote.”
Rogerson pointed to Arizona school district overrides that have recently been won or lost by as little as three dozen votes.
For Frances Banales, president of the Tucson Education Association, the reasons why teachers are not exercising their right to vote is in line with the same reasons noneducators typically cite: scheduling and a belief that their vote doesn’t matter.
While Banales says there is no definitive data on teacher turnout, she says it is safe to assume that if educators did participate in high numbers, the outcome of elections would be different.
Nonetheless, she is hopeful that this initiative will motivate teachers to learn about the issues and understand that their vote does indeed count.
“When you have encouragement and you feel you are knowledgeable, you are more likely to vote,” Banales said.
The effort has been underway since August. In that time, the campaign has engaged 2,000 teachers in TUSD, and more than 500 teachers have taken a pledge to vote.
If the pilot is successful this year, the goal is to expand it to other school districts next year.