Democratic newcomers spurred to run by this year’s controversial curriculum legislation largely trailed behind Republican incumbents in elections to the Indiana Statehouse, although a handful of teachers and other education-focused candidates were ahead in their races as of Wednesday, according to unofficial results.
The newly elected legislators will head into a budget session in January 2023 that will likely include a debate over school funding as the state grapples with teacher shortages and the effects of COVID on student achievement.
Some advocates also expect to see a repeat of last year’s legislation to restrict the teaching of race and racism that was inspired by a national conservative movement.
This election season saw several newcomer candidates — including teachers and parents — step into races to challenge incumbents who had supported such bills.
Among the hopefuls was Joey Mayer, a Democratic candidate for House District 24 in Westfield, who had led an organization to combat racism at Westfield schools.
Mayer received 40.8% of the vote as of early Wednesday afternoon. Independent candidate Ken Tucker, a teacher, received 2.5%, while Republican incumbent Donna Schaibley received 56.6%.
“While this was not the outcome we wanted for our campaign, we will keep pushing forward,” Mayer said in a statement on Twitter.
Matt McNally, who led a political action committee to support Westfield schools before running as the Democratic candidate for House District 39 in Hamilton County, also trailed incumbent Republican Rep. Jerry Torr on Wednesday with 47.6% of the vote.
Other educators who ran but were headed to defeat as of Wednesday include Democrat Jim White, superintendent of Bremen Public Schools who ran against GOP Rep. Jack Jordan; Democrat Donna Griffin, a teacher and journalist who ran against Republican Rep. Chris Jeter; and Democrat Teresa Kendall, a teacher who ran against GOP Rep. Shane Lindauer.
Meanwhile, Wednesday results showed two teachers running as Republicans ahead in their election contests.
Scott Hawkins, a teacher and Republican candidate for House District 71 in southern Indiana, was up 35 votes over incumbent Democrat Rita Fleming on Wednesday afternoon.
In House District 54, which includes New Castle and Middletown, both candidates had backgrounds in education. Republican Cory Criswell, a teacher and coach, received around 74% of the vote against Democrat Nan Polk, a former teacher and school board member.
But incumbent Terri Austin, a teacher, adjunct professor, and longtime House lawmaker, lost to challenger Kyle Pierce, who won around 51% of the vote in House District 36, or 333 more votes than Austin.
Other House incumbents with backgrounds in education fared better. Results showed that Rep. Tonya Pfaff, a math teacher and a Democrat representing Terre Haute, won his election with 58.4% of the vote.
Rep. Wendy McNamara, an Evansville Republican and director of Early College High School, had around 63% of the vote in District 76. McNamara was one of few Republican legislators who did not support the curriculum restrictions bill, House Bill 1134, saying that it required monitoring teachers.
One K-12 educator is also joining the ranks of the state Senate.
Andrea Hunley, an Indianapolis Public Schools principal and former teacher, received around 72% of the vote in District 46 — a newly created district in Indianapolis.
“I entered this race a year ago to represent you — my community — the people of Senate District 46 who need to be seen and who deserve to be heard,” Hunley said in a Tuesday statement. “I will fight for you and a better quality of life — of access and fairness and opportunity — for each of you.”
Several candidates from the higher education sphere ran for office this year.
Victoria Garcia Wilburn, a Democrat and assistant professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was ahead by around 200 votes on Wednesday afternoon in House District 32, which includes portions of Marion and Hamilton counties.
David Sanders, an associate professor at Purdue University faced off against Spencer Deery, deputy chief of staff to Purdue President Mitch Daniels. Deery, a Republican, had 75% of the vote in Senate District 23 on Wednesday against Sanders, a Democrat.
The new state senators will join several other lawmakers with experience in education who won their re-election campaigns, including Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz, a former principal of a private Christian school who is chair of the Education and Career Development Committee.
Election results also pointed to a victory for Sen. Linda Rogers, the Granger Republican who attempted to strike a compromise on the curriculum restrictions bill in the Senate and ultimately declined to call it forward for a vote.
Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at email@example.com.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.