Democratic nominee for state superintendent feels 'excluded' by other candidates, GAE

Alisha Thomas Searcy (right, in blue) said in a Facebook post this week she's been ostracized and excluded from events and campaign literature by other Democratic candidates. (Photo courtesy Stacey Abrams campaign)

The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) has endorsed statewide candidates in Georgia’s upcoming midterm elections. For most races, they’ve endorsed Democrats. There’s one exception: the state schools superintendent race. The GAE has endorsed Republican incumbent Richard Woods over Democrat Alisha Thomas Searcy.

“We believe that Mr. Woods, who is an actual educator, who has experience in the classroom, understands public education and understands our positions,” said GAE President Lisa Morgan. “We believe that he is more focused on ensuring that the voices of the experts and the classroom teachers are at the forefront of the decisions.”

Morgan says the GAE was also pleased with the way Woods handled a recent teacher burnout report.

“We’re very pleased that everyone involved in that was a classroom teacher,” Morgan said. “They were able to be honest and be real about what is happening in classrooms. And that is what we want to see.”

Woods isn’t the only Republican the GAE has endorsed. Morgan says the organization has backed a mix of Republicans and Democrats for legislative seats.

Not an automatic ‘D’

Teachers’ groups are often associated with Democrats, due to their support of issues like increasing school spending. So it wasn’t a surprise when the GAE endorsed Stacey Abrams for governor in June. In accepting the endorsement, Abrams promised to significantly raise teachers’ starting salaries if elected.

“My pledge is to make certain that the base starting pay in the state of Georgia by 2026 will be $50,000 dollars a year in the state of Georgia,” she said.

The average starting salary is around $39,000 now.

The GAE also endorsed Democrats for lieutenant governor, attorney general, and labor commissioner. But Morgan says the association doesn’t just back candidates with Ds next to their names.   

“Our state committee … spent probably 40 hours, over three weekends, interviewing candidates,” she said. “We interviewed every candidate that responded. No favoritism on our part of who we interview.”

Morgan says the GAE differs from Searcy on some key policy positions, including some votes she took as a state lawmaker.

“One of our major differences is Ms. Searcy does support and voted for the tax credits for public funds to go to private schools and we view that as a voucher scheme,” she said.

Through the scholarship program, taxpayers can get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for a donation to a scholarship fund. The money goes toward private school scholarships. Searcy doesn’t equate the program with school vouchers.

“None of the funds that are used to fund this tax credit come from the K-12 public education budget,” she said in a primary debate. “I have never voted in favor of a voucher. I’ve never sponsored a voucher bill.”

Out on a limb

In addition to the tax credit scholarships, when Searcy was in the legislature, she supported a now-unpopular teacher evaluation program and an amendment to the state constitution that would give the General Assembly the authority to approve charter schools. The GAE opposes all of those programs. So do a lot of Democrats. Those positions may have helped alienate Searcy from other members of her party.

She wrote on Facebook this week that she felt excluded by others on the Democratic ticket, led by Abrams.

“Friends and Supporters, many of you have asked me why I have been ostracized and excluded from flyers, photos, social media posts, and endorsements from organizations connected to One Georgia (Stacey Abrams’ campaign). Unfortunately, I do not have an answer. Although the campaign is called One Georgia, the actions of the group nor the candidate seem to align with the name,” Searcy wrote.

In another paragraph, she said, “…we are supposed to be the party of the big tent, the party to embrace diversity and the party that stands up for those who are left out. As we seek to lead at the highest offices of our government, we must operate from those values starting in our own backyard. I ask you to stand with me. Speak up. Stop the silence.”

Searcy told WABE she’s been left out of campaign events and literature that include other statewide Democrats.

“There have been a number of instances where I have not been included,” she said.

But since her post, Searcy says some candidates have reached out to assure her they support her campaign.

“It appears to me that they’ve changed course,” she said. “I’m happy to see that. I’m hopeful and I look forward to winning in November.”

Stacey Abrams’ campaign says she supports the entire Democratic ticket and that the candidates participate in joint fundraising.