As educators and union members, we know how important it is to be informed on issues that matter to ourselves, our families, and our students. And we know how important it is to make our voices heard in the classroom, at the bargaining table, and in the voting booth.
The 2020 general election is a critical one. In addition to the Presidential election, legislative races in Minnesota will set the stage for an important and urgent education funding battle in the 2021 session.
SPFE’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) has created this guide to help our members track important dates, provide information on early voting, and share information about how our union makes endorsement recommendations.
Thank you for being a member, and thank you for being a voter.
What’s at Stake in 2020
It’s been a challenging year for educators in Saint Paul. On March 9, we said goodbye to our students and walked out of our buildings. Early in the morning of March 10 we gathered on strike lines to fight for the resources our students need. We had no idea then, that would be the last day we saw our students in our classrooms. By the time our strike was settled, COVID-19 had closed our schools, and educators across the state were doing what they do best – making it work as best they could.
The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis on May 25, sparked protests in the Twin Cities and around the world. Many of us gathered in the streets alongside neighbors to demand justice and an end to the murder of Black people in our country.
During the summer, simple safety measures like social distancing and wearing a mask were politicized, and even as deaths from COVID-19 increased. Some politicians began to suggest that putting students and educators at risk by returning to school was acceptable, so that we could return to “normal.”
As educators, we know that a return to “normal’ isn’t enough. Normal isn’t good enough for our students, our families, and ourselves. This year had shown others what we already know.
The choices we make in the 2020 elections will be about values. Elected officials from president to school board members will need to make decisions about how we repair harm – the harm caused by a global pandemic, the harm caused by white supremacy, and the harm caused by economic policies that have turned our public schools into the last social safety net in America.
Now more than ever before, we need to elect candidates that share our values, and who will make decisions with us, not for us. In 2021, we must have a state legislature that is committed to fully funding education, addressing systemic inequity in substantive ways, and prioritizes people over corporations. We must have mayors and city councils that are courageous as they rebuild. We need a president committed to uniting the country, not pitting us against our neighbors. We must have school boards that see educators as partners, not enemies.
At SPFE, we know how to build power with each other. We know that our students and families look to us to advocate alongside them. Elections are a powerful tool we can use to fight for ourselves, our students, and our families. By voting together to support education champions in our cities, state, and country, we can win.
Voting in 2020
What’s on the 2020 ballot?
All Minnesota voters will have the following on their general election ballot:
- U.S. President
- U.S. Senator
- U.S. Representative
- State Senator
- State Representative
- Judicial Seats
Some voters will also have one or more of these races on their ballot:
- County Officials
- City Officers
- School Board Members
- Township Officers
- Ballot initiatives
Saint Paul will hold a special election to complete the term of Board Chair Marny Xiong.
You can find information on SPFE endorsed candidates on our 2020 Elections page, along with other voter resources, including endorsements from Education Minnesota, the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, and other unions and community organizations.
How do I vote early?
In Minnesota, you can vote early by absentee ballot starting Friday, September 18, 2020. You do not need a reason to vote early.
To vote by mail, request a ballot either online or by mail. Your ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day. After you mail your ballot back, you can track its status using the Secretary of State’s website.
To vote early in person, go to your county elections office to cast your ballot. Some cities are also offering early voting hours. Check your county’s website for more information.
More information on how to register to vote and sample ballots can be found at the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.
In Minnesota, registered voters do not need to provide ID to vote. You can register to vote on Election Day. There are several ways to show proof of residence, you can find that list here.
In Wisconsin, all registered voters will be sent an application to vote absentee. You do not need a reason to vote early, but your application must be submitted to your local election office. Information on Wisconsin elections, including a sample ballot, can be found at My Vote Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, registered voters must provide ID to vote. There are a number of deadlines for voter registration, you can find that list here.
SPFE COPE strongly recommends that all members apply for an absentee ballot and vote early, either in person or by mail.
How local lawmakers impact education policy and funding in Minnesota
Governor (four year term): The Governor impacts education directly through their budget proposal and through appointments, including the Commissioner of Education and the members of the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.
Minnesota State Representative and Senator (two and four year terms, respectively): The Minnesota House and Senate impacts education directly by serving on education specific committees and by voting on gubernatorial appointments and budget proposals. In the House, key committees include Education Policy, Education Finance, Early Childhood Finance and Policy, and Higher Education Finance and Policy. In the Senate, key committees include E-12 Finance and Policy, and Higher Education Finance and Policy. (Senate terms may be shortened in redistricting years)
County Commissioner (four year term): County Commissioners do not impact education funding or policy directly. However, they have oversight over all county programs, many of which impact our students, including public health, parks, and zoning.
Mayor (four year term): Mayors do not have direct oversight of local school districts, and, depending on the city they may have either more or less power than the city council. However, mayors do impact public education indirectly through their budget proposals – specifically in any funding that impacts the day-to-day lives of city residents. Mayors also occupy a unique position as cheerleader for their city.
City Council (four year term): City Council also has no direct oversight over education funding or policy. In addition to zoning and passing ordinances, they impact funding for essential supports to many of our families in areas like afterschool care, mental health, and affordable housing. In some cities they can call for tax levies that directly fund programs that our students rely on.
School Board (four year term): Local school boards have the most direct impact on education spending and policy implementation. In addition to hiring and supervising the Superintendent, the school board is responsible for finalizing contracts with bargaining units, fiscal oversight, and determine when to call for a referendum.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does SPFE make endorsements?
Any candidate seeking the SPFE endorsement must meet the criteria for endorsement, complete a candidate questionnaire and participate in a screening. Questionnaires will be posted on the SPFE website, and screenings are open to SPFE members and the general public. SPFE COPE makes recommendations for endorsement to the SPFE Executive Board. For safety reasons due to COVID-19, the requirement to shadow an educator (Walk a Day with SPFE), has been suspended.
How can I share my opinion about a candidate?
The best way to share your feedback is to attend a screening. If you cannot attend a screening, please contact any member of SPFE COPE or the SPFE Political Organizer.
What if a candidate asks to meet with me?
This is great! The more time candidates spend with educators the better. SPFE COPE can help you prepare for the meeting and walk you through the endorsement process. Email SPFE Political Organizer Lynne Bolton (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions.
Why does SPFE only endorse Democrats?
Political party is not part of the endorsement criteria. However, only candidates that meet the minimum criteria will be offered the opportunity to screen.
What is the political organizer’s role in endorsement?
The political organizer has no vote in determining who will receive an endorsement. The political organizer’s role is to gather information, make recommendations when asked by COPE, and support to COPE in the endorsement process.
Why are members asked to volunteer?
The most effective way to win elections and to build power are through face-to-face interactions. That’s why door knocking (when it is safe to do so) is so important. In close elections, face-to-face conversations with real people were most often the deciding factor. Being able to turn out volunteers who are willing to talk about the issues with other community members sends a message to candidates about our ability to hold them accountable.
What is SPFE COPE?
COPE is the Committee on Political Education and serves as the political arm of the Saint Paul Federation of Educators.
COPE drafts candidate questionnaires, screens candidates, recommends candidates for endorsement to the executive board, makes campaign contributions to endorsed candidates, hosts phone banks and door knocks.
SPFE COPE Members
SPFE COPE is a volunteer committee that meets monthly and reports to the SPFE Executive Board. The current committee is: Annaka Larson (Chair), Laurel Kuhner Berker (Treasurer), Beth Swanberg (EdMn Political Action Committee), Janey Atchison (EdMn Legislative Action Committee), Yasmin Muridi (Director of Non-Licensed Personnel), Camila Davila, Joan Duncanson, Jeff Garcia, Sarah Bosch.
SPFE COPE is staffed by the SPFE Political Organizer, Lynne Bolton.
As educators and SPFE members, we go to work each day hoping to create the best learning environment we can for our students. It can be hard to look up from the parent phone calls and ungraded tests to pay attention to an election, but being politically active is just another way of taking care of our students. Educators are the experts on what our kids need and at every level of government, our leaders need to be listening to us. If you’re ready to take on a larger role as an education activist, please talk to Political Organizer Lynne Bolton or one of committee members about joining COPE. We hope this guide is helpful and we are grateful to stand with you in 2020.
Annaka Larson, COPE chair, Beth Swanberg, EdMn PAC Board, and Janey Atchison, EdMn LAC Board