Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Do the 2017 Election Results Mean for Education?

While news stories about President Trump’s trickle-down influence on voters claimed the national spotlight during this election cycle, education issues still managed to eke out a respectable showing on Tuesday. Among the headline-grabbers: contentious local school board races in Connecticut and North Carolina, a Democratic sweep of gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, and a victory for opponents of school vouchers in Colorado that carries potential national implications.

Local voters showed their support for investing in the Anoka-Hennepin District, Minnesota’s largest school system, where a record-setting $249 million bond measure to modernize facilities and pay for new construction was approved. Also in Minnesota, school board seats were up for grabs in a handful of districts throughout the state, in some cases drawing more than 10 candidates in each contest, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Beena Raghavendran.

Indeed, local elections often have an impact on school policies — particularly around issues of equity. Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum spotlighted two research-based examples:

One analysis of North Carolina school board elections found that electing a Democratic school board member led to substantially reduced school segregation. Another recent study found that Democratic state governors meant more money was distributed to schools with more students of color (though they didn’t lead to higher or lower test scores).

While pundits may have framed this year’s elections as a referendum on Trump, some controversial wedge issues — including school choice and accountability — found their way into top-ticket races at the state level.

Experts contended nothing less than the future of public education in Virginia hinged on the contest between Democrat and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. Northam prevailed by a wide margin. Gillespie had promised to loosen restrictions on charter schools to spur their expansion, and to advocate for homeschooling.

It’s worth noting that the youth vote has doubled in Virginia since 2009, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University near Boston. Younger voters are especially likely to rank education as among their top concerns.

Daarel Burnette of Education Week explained that Northam’s victory — and that of Democratic Governor-Elect Phil Murphy in New Jersey — could reshape everything from school accountability rules to funding priorities for education programs and services. That battle will be particularly fraught in New Jersey, after eight years under Republican Gov. Chris Christie, and a fractious relationship between the state’s education department and the teachers’ union, Burnette wrote.

School choice was also a key issue in Douglas County, Colorado, where a slate of voucher opponents were swept into office Tuesday. The four new members of the seven-person board are expected to flip the ideological direction of the state’s third-largest district, eight years after Republican-backed candidates took control. Writing for Chalkbeat Colorado, Nic Garcia explains why those ripples could stretch far beyond the Centennial State:

That move would be a blow for national conservative education reform advocates who wanted to see the district’s voucher program prevail in court. A court victory could have set a national precedent for private-school vouchers by eliminating so-called “Blaine Amendments,” which forbid tax dollars going to religious institutions, from dozens of state constitutions. If the district withdraws its defense, the legal fight will end without resolution — one reason why the Douglas County race drew national interest.

For more on education races, and how public education is faring in the era of President Trump, check out EWA’s Topics Page, which provides handy links to recent coverage by EWA journalist members, writeups from our recent seminars on these issues, and more. And if you’re writing about changes on the horizon as new officials take office, it’s a great time to tap EWA’s Reporter Guide on State Education Policy.