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Why Is This Teacher Running for Office? To Help 'Students Get What They Deserve'

In the runup to Election Day, Education Week will feature several stories of teachers who are running for their state legislatures. 

By Madeline Will

Jenefer Pasqua watched teachers walk out of their classrooms in Oklahoma and Arizona this spring, and hoped that would never have to happen in her state of Wyoming. 

jenefer.jpg

A veteran teacher, Pasqua was tired of watching state legislators "chip away" at education funding for years. In May, she filed to run for the state House of Representatives as a Democrat, against a Republican incumbent. 

"Why does education continue to not be a priority [for the state], and if it is a priority, why are we so willing to cut it?" asked Pasqua in an interview with Education Week. She just started teaching high school special education after more than a decade teaching elementary grades.

Earlier this year, the Wyoming state legislature passed a two-year budget that cut $27 million in education funding. The legislature has also made an additional $77 million in cuts to school funding over recent years, according to the Gillette News Record

Still, Wyoming has a complicated financial formula for funding education, and the state will ultimately spend around $12 or $13 million more on schools—mostly for insurance and special education costs—in the next school year, the News Record reported.

The mineral-rich state is constitutionally required to adequately fund education, but legislators have been considering measures to change education funding requirements. That was the "final straw" for Pasqua, who decided she had to do something. She had never run for office before, but she has always been interested in politics—her bachelor's degree is in political science, and she used to teach U.S. history. 

"I was seeing that we had the funds, but we were continuing to cut education ... it was kind of my motivating factor [to run]," said Pasqua, 39. "You know what, I think I could do better in how we manage our funds." 

Pasqua is one of nearly 170 current classroom teachers who are running for their state legislatures this year—part of an unprecedented wave of teachers running for office. Over 100 of the candidates have made it past the primary elections. (Pasqua was unopposed in her primary.) 

There are a few former teachers in the Wyoming legislature, but no current teachers, Pasqua said. According to Education Week's database, she is the only current teacher seeking election this year. 

That's a shame, she said, because a teacher's perspective is important when considering how to make budget cuts. 

"I think when [legislators] make blanket cuts, they see a big number [and think], 'This area can receive this cut,' not really understanding what it mean," Pasqua said. "What does that truly mean to this area? What does that mean to me as a teacher in the classroom if they cut $27 million statewide? I don't think they understand that means we're going to have less supplies in the classroom." 

If elected, Pasqua would advocate drawing from the state's significant rainy day fund rather than cutting education dollars. And if cuts need to be made, she said she would make them at the top: The state education department has ballooned in size over the last two decades, she said.

"We've allowed that to grow so much, and I don't know if that's necessary," Pasqua said.

Funding the department is "a way to tell teachers what to do, rather than keep funding closer to a teacher and students," she said. "[We don't need] more oversight on common-core standards and more oversight on what I'm teaching in the classroom."

Although Pasqua doesn't talk much about her campaign in the classroom, her students have told her they have seen her campaign ads. She said she responds, "I'm making sure you students get what you deserve." 

While Pasqua is hopeful about the results of the election, she's also realistic—her opponent has served in the state legislature since 2010, and she knows it's a long shot to unseat an incumbent. 

If she doesn't win, she thinks she will tap former students who have graduated and are still in the area to help her canvass next time.

After all, "I don't think this will be the only time I ever run," Pasqua said, mentioning that she would be interested in serving on a community college board.

"There's certainly other opportunities," she added. "I critique my senator, too—he's up for reelection in two years." 

Image courtesy of Jenefer Pasqua


Before the election, catch up on Education Week's coverage of teachers running for office:

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