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From education to the legislature, Eslinger continues her life of public service

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After nearly 40 years in education, Sen. Karla Eslinger is embarking on a new type of public service — this time in the state legislature. 

Eslinger handedly won election to SD 33 in November, beating her Democratic opponent by nearly 84 percent. She replaced the term-limited Republican Mike Cunningham, who supported her during a tough primary, in the upper chamber. 

Sen. Karla Eslinger

Eslinger brings with her to the Senate an extensive background in education: She’s worked as a school teacher, principal, superintendent, and senior analyst for a company providing technical assistance for the U.S. Department of Education. But as she gets settled in the Senate, Eslinger is adamant she’s prepared for more than just education issues. 

“Education is the work I was doing, but I came here to do more than just education,” Eslinger said. “When I look out across my district, I have eight counties. That’s a very big district, and it happens to be the part of the state that has the poorest counties in the state. I’m looking to have an impact on economic development and to try to do as much as I can in education, infrastructure, workforce development — all the things we know truly drive economic development.” 

SD 33 encompasses Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster, and Wright counties in south-central Missouri. She pointed to access to broadband internet as a necessity for her district, particularly in the medical and educational fields, as well as an investment in infrastructure. 

Sen. Karla Eslinger’s SD 33 encompasses eight counties.

Eslinger moved to her district as a child from Kansas City and has made her home in Wasola along with her husband on their family farm. They’ve raised two daughters (both became educators) and owned and operated an auto body shop for about 35 years. 

Eslinger served for one year in the House but has a storied career in education. She began as an elementary school teacher and rose to the ranks of principal and superintendent in Ava and West Plains. She also worked as a senior analyst for AEM Corporation, often traveling to Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the country. With AEM, Eslinger worked with schools and large federal grants — from training leadership to implementing plans for long term investment. 

“I saw two things [through that work]. Some of the things we’re doing in our state is absolutely phenomenal,” Eslinger said. “I also saw that some of the things we’re doing in our state could be better. We need to truly be able to meet the kids where they are. And we need to be able to provide support and the tools necessary so our teachers and leaders can do the job we’re asking them to do — and I don’t think we’re doing that.” 

She is also a former assistant commissioner of education for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

In her first year in the upper chamber, Eslinger sits on a bevy of committees, including Appropriations; Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment; Gubernatorial Appointments; and Professional Registration. She’s also on the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, the Joint Committee on Legislative Research, the Joint Committee on Public Assistance, and the Select Committee on Redistricting. 

Eslinger is part of a historic and diverse class this year with the greatest number of women serving — 11. 

“I’m so honored. That’s the main thing. Every time I walk into this building … I’m so honored to be here and do this service,” Eslinger said. 

“Anytime that you can have a broad perspective on any issue is always better,” she continued. “And when you have a diverse group of people looking at an issue, you just get better information. … I just appreciate the opportunity to look out across the floor and see more diversity.” 

In a nod to her district’s history with Missouri’s state horse, Sen. Karla Eslinger is pushing legislation designating the first full week of September as “Fox Trotter Week.” (PROVIDED)

Eslinger has filed a handful of bills already, including one designating the first full week in September as “Fox Trotter Week.” Eslinger noted the fox trotting horse, which is the official state horse, was developed in the Ozarks. 

She has also filed a resolution attempting to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions and legislation pertaining to literacy and reading instruction.