Atlanta school board chair announces state Senate run

Jason Esteves recently won a third term on the board
Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Jason Esteves on Thursday launched his campaign for a state Senate seat. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Jason Esteves on Thursday launched his campaign for a state Senate seat. (Hyosub Shin / AJC FILE PHOTO)

Atlanta Board of Education Chair Jason Esteves announced Thursday that he’ll run for state Senate District 6.

The seat, which straddles Fulton and Cobb counties, has been held by Jen Jordan, who is running for attorney general of Georgia in next year’s election.

Esteves said that vacancy made the timing right for him to seek higher office, where he would push for public school funding, expanding access to early childhood education and affordable healthcare.

“My goal would be to go into the state Legislature to pass laws that build our communities so our teachers can focus on teaching,” he said in a Thursday interview. “There’s so much where the state can fill in the gap that school districts are forced to fill and teachers bear the brunt of that effort.”

Esteves is the first to announce his candidacy for the seat.

In November, he won a third school board term which runs through 2023. He plans to serve the first half of that term and step down at the end of next year if his Senate campaign is successful.

That would leave an opening on the school board which could be filled by board appointment, Esteves said.

The 38-year-old former teacher, attorney and treasurer of the Democratic Party of Georgia has served as the school board chair the last four years.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Georgia House of Representatives before his 2013 Atlanta Public Schools’ victory made him the first Latino in Georgia elected to a school board.

Board Vice-Chair Eshé Collins, also elected in 2013, said Esteves dives deeply into issues and “builds the relationships necessary to make things happen.”

“I think with him running for this role, it’s fitting for the leadership he’s done (and) what he has proven,” Collins said.

While Esteves will stay on as a board member next year, his chairmanship is ending because of term limits. During his tenure, APS boosted high school graduation rates, gave raises to employees and hired the district’s first chief equity and social justice officer.

But many Atlanta children still struggle academically. Only 37% of third through eighth graders scored at proficient or above levels in reading on state tests in 2019, the most recent assessment before the COVID-19 pandemic. Math scores were a couple percentage points lower.

Esteves pushed for progressive actions and called out “systemic racism” that he said creates inequities in how children are educated in the state’s seventh-largest school system.

“There are school systems that neighbor us and across this country that wouldn’t even say those words out loud in a meeting and yet we recognize it in policy,” he said, during his last meeting as chair Monday. “We were not afraid to take stands on issues, whether it was proudly and clearly saying that Black Lives Matter or changing the names of schools when many people, many people, were advising us against it.”

He also referenced one of the board’s most controversial moves during his tenure: A 2019 decision, which he supported, to not renew the contract of then-superintendent Meria Carstarphen. That led to the board hiring a new leader during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a very challenging time to be a school board member,” he said Monday. “I’ve lost hair. I’ve lost sleep.”

About Jason Esteves

Age: 38

Background: Elected to Atlanta Board of Education in 2013, served as board chair since 2018

Occupation: Attorney, vice president at Equifax