Blog: The Educated Reporter

State, Local Election Results Signal Shifts for Ed. Policy

(Flickr/Stephen Valasco)

Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core, but with a new Republican governor elected Tuesday who opposes the standards for English language arts and math, that pioneering legacy could be upended. Indeed, while the 2016 presidential race has dominated the campaign news lately, state and local election results this week could have significant implications for education policy and funding, from Mississippi to Indianapolis and Jefferson County, Colorado.

In the Bluegrass State, Matt Bevin won what’s widely been described as an upset victory over the state’s Democratic attorney general. The governor-elect won’t be able to throw out Kentucky’s Common Core standards on his own, but he could appoint state school board members who would support such a move, reports Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa. That’s not to say that approach wouldn’t face opposition. Kentucky’s newly hired state education commissioner — Stephen Pruitt — is a strong Common Core supporter. (Pruitt previously worked for Achieve, a national organization that played a key role in helping to craft the standards.) Bevin also campaigned heavily on school choice, and pledged to support a coalition of black ministers’ campaign to allow charter schools in the state, reported Toni Konz for WDRB in Louisville.

In Louisiana, where a run-off race for governor takes place on Nov. 21, both Democrat John Bell Edwards and Republican David Vitter have pledged to overhaul and replace the Common Core State Standards. However, replacing the state superintendent - whose office would be responsible for implementing the new standards — isn’t a unilateral decision the governor can make, as Will Sentell reports for The Advocate. (John White, a staunch Common Core proponent, currently holds the post of state schools chief.) And the majority of the leading candidates for Louisiana’s education board support the Common Core, according to the newspaper.

Here’s some other election results for those working the education beat::

  • In Mississippi, a campaign to force more state spending for education suffered a major setback at the polls, with 54 percent of voters rejecting a ballot measure that would have amended the state’s constitution and changed the formula for funding public schools. If the initiative had passed, the constitution would have been revised to require that the state — rather than the legislature — provide “an adequate and efficient system of public schools” and give courts the authority to enforce that mandate. This would have been a significant change for Mississippi, and brought it closer in line with the rest of the nation when it comes to school funding, as reporter Kate Royals explains in the Clarion-Ledger.
  • In Colorado, a high-profile — and highly unusual — recall vote ended the tenure of three conservative members of the Jefferson County School Board. All three had been elected in 2013 by wide margins in the wake of a backlash against a controversial data management program, as Nicholas Garcia reports for Chalkbeat Colorado. The conservative board members ousted as a result of Tuesday’s election favored expanding charter schools and vouchers. Their replacements on the board (one is a registered Democrat while the others are unaffiliated) will serve out the remaining two years of their predecessors’ terms.
  • Indianapolis voters elected a new Democratic mayor (after eight years of Republican control) but there are more questions than answers as to Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett’s positions on key education issues, including charter schools and teacher policies, according to Scott Elliott of Chalkbeat Indiana. Elliott writes: “His five-point education plan focused on issues that sound more traditional than reform-oriented: Studying ways to reduce the impact of poverty on schools, expanding state-supported preschool for poor children, launching a mentoring program for kids, selling city-owned homes for little or no cost to teachers and working to ensure discipline in schools is fair to children of all races.” (Elliott is also the president of EWA’s Board of Directors.)
  • Voters in the West Ada school district in Idaho — the state’s largest school system – approved a $29 million supplemental levy that officials said was essential to keeping nine instructional days on the academic calendar and preventing layoffs. Other education-related campaigns were less successful, reported Kevin Richert for Idaho Education News. A planned partnership between local education agencies and the YMCA to build a new elementary school was among the measures that failed at the ballot box.
  • In the Twin Cities, the school board is going to be reshaped with the election of four new members backed by the teachers’ union, reports Josh Verges for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press: “The St. Paul Federation of Teachers began working against the incumbents almost a year ago, upset that the board members they endorsed in past elections weren’t responding to the union’s complaints.”

If you’re looking for help, a good place to start is EWA’s Topics Page on Campaigns & Elections.  We also have a Reporter’s Guides to Campaign Finance, Using Polling Data in Education Reporting, and State Education Policy. Also, EWA on Nov. 19 is hosting a forum on education and the 2016 presidential election at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.