Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education and the Election: What Happened and What It Means

Source: Flickr/Ginny (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The midterm election results have big implications for education, from Republicans’ success in retaking the U.S. Senate to new governors coming in and a slew of education ballot measures, most of which were defeated.

The widely watched race for California’s schools superintendent came down to the wire, with incumbent Tom Torlakson edging out challenger Marshall Tuck — a former charter schools administrator: 

At the federal level, GOP control of both chambers of Congress “will likely spur movement on education bills, including an overhaul of the outdated No Child Left Behind Act that lessens the role of the federal government,” according to an Education Week blog post by reporter Lauren Camera. The incoming chairman of the Senate education committee, Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, also is expected to pursue an ambitious revamping of federal higher education policy, she notes.

Inside Higher Ed’s Michael Stratford reports that a Republican-led Congress “will likely be something of a double-edged sword for colleges and universities.” On one hand, he notes, colleges will find more help from Republicans in their longstanding efforts to roll back federal requirements they view as burdensome. At the same time, higher education may face tougher battles over federal funding for academic research and student aid programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education also takes a look at what the midterm elections mean.

Although the congressional elections may dominate national news today, governors have a lot of influence over education policy and budgets, and 36 seats were in play. Winners include newcomers such as Democrat Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania, a favorite of the teachers’ unions. The Philadelphia Inquirer didn’t mince words on the reason for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s defeat, concluding that massive budget cuts including a $1 billion “whack” for education, doomed him. 

Republicans Larry Hogan in Maryland and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts won their gubernatorial challenges, staging big upsets in heavily Democratic states. At the same time, some high-profile players in education debates kept their seats, including Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, and GOP Gov. Rick Scott of Florida.

Ballot measures were considered by voters in at least 11 states, according to Education Week. Oregon voters, for example, rejected a measure that would have allowed the state to borrow money to endow a fund for college financial aid, reports Betsy Hammond of The Oregonian. Measure 86 was “widely endorsed by business, labor and pro-student groups, and there was no organized opposition to the measure,” she notes. In Hawaii, voters rejected a proposal that would have amended the state’s constitution and allowed public money to be used for private preschool programs, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports.

And Chalkbeat Indiana offers a close look at local elections, including the defeat of three members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board of education. “The newly elected school board members will help make a new majority, expected to push even more strongly for reforms like making schools more autonomous, reducing the size of IPS’s central office and partnering with charter schools,” explains reporter Hayleigh Colombo.

Here’s a sampling of coverage by EWA members (with more to come later in the day):

Mary Plummer of Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) on California’s schools superintendent race becoming the most expensive political fight in the state this year:  ”Although the nonpartisan office of superintendent has little direct authority, it commands a large stage. Millions were poured into the campaign as corporate executives together with those seeking policy changes faced off against the labor and educational establishment.” 

John Fensterwald of Ed Source on Tom Torlakson’s election to a second term as California superintendent: “Whether voters saw the race as a referendum on education reform or a vote of confidence in an incumbent, Torlakson will remain the primary voice on education in California for another four years.”

Todd Engdahl of Chalkbeat Colorado reports that the Republican groundswell could have big implications for education: The race for governor remains undecided, but a loss by incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper “could have important implications for education policy, given (challenger Bob Beauprez’s) opposition to the Common Core State Standards and current levels of standardized testing.”

Stephanie Joyce, Wyoming Public Media: “Voters roundly defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed non-residents to serve on the University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees. … Proponents said it would allow for a wider pool of candidates, citing the fact that more than half of UW alumni live out of state. Opponents pointed out the amendment didn’t actually include a requirement that the candidates be alumni.”

Alia Wong of the Honolulu Civil Beat on the bitter defeat of an early education ballot measure: “For now, it looks like the state won’t be able to tap into private providers if it wants to develop a comprehensive preschool system accessible to all of the state’s 17,500 4-year-olds. Hawaii voters statewide have turned down a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would have permitted the state to spend public money on private preschools. Question No. 4 — this year’s most controversial state ballot initiative — lost 52 percent to 44 percent.” 

Celia Llopis-Jepsen of the Topeka Capital-Journal: “The Kansas State Board of Education will retain its moderate tone for the next two years after the Kansas City incumbent won re-election in the board’s sole contested race.”

Mackenzie Ryan of Florida Today: “The morning after a historic vote – which raises [Brevard County's] sales tax from 6 to 6.5 percent – leaders gathered to share their appreciation. It’s only the second time in the last 50 years that voters approved a countywide tax to support local public schools.”