Education and the 2020 Elections

Overview

Education and the 2020 Elections

The stakes are high for education in 2020. Not only is the White House in play this election season, but also control of the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures, plus 11 gubernatorial seats. In addition, voters will decide a host of local contests, including school board elections, that could shift educational priorities.

The stakes are high for education in 2020. Not only is the White House in play this election season, but also control of the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures, plus 11 gubernatorial seats. In addition, voters will decide a host of local contests, including school board elections, that could shift educational priorities.

Federal races

The leading Democratic contenders for the White House in 2020 bring stark differences with President Donald Trump on education, from federal spending (they want more, he wants less) to policy preferences and even enforcement priorities at the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. They also have singled out U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for criticism, and have vowed to replace her with a very different kind of department chief. 

Most of the Democrats have rolled out detailed education agendas. Popular talking points include tripling (or more) funding for the federal Title I program for disadvantaged students, introducing variations on “free college” initiatives, increasing teacher pay, reducing school segregation, and funding universal preschool. To be sure, the candidates are not aligned on all issues. Take charter schools: Some candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (elected in Vermont as an Independent) and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have been sharply critical and are seeking to curtail charter growth, and even end the federal charter schools program.

For more on the candidates and their agendas, check out this special section by Education Week and Chalkbeat’s 2020 Cheat Sheet.

The Trump re-election website emphasizes school choice, efforts to “empower states” with increased flexibility under federal K-12 law, and improving the student loan process to “improve the customer experience,” among other things. The president has repeatedly sought to cut funding for the U.S. Department of Education, including (in early 2019) requesting a 10 percent reduction.

Democrats need a net gain of three seats to win control of the U.S. Senate in 2020, as Politico explains. By most accounts, they face an uphill battle: Even if a Democrat wins the White House, a new president could face significant obstacles to accomplishing his or her education agenda, especially on items with large price tags attached. Meanwhile, most analysts suggest Democrats are likely to retain their House majority in 2020.

State and local races

For all the media attention trained on the presidential election, state and local governments are far bigger players when it comes to policy, funding, and practice. (For some perspective, only about 8 percent of K-12 revenue comes from the federal government, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics.)

The 11 states with gubernatorial elections in 2020 are Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, according to Ballotpedia. In Vermont, for instance, a leading Democratic candidate is Rebecca Holcombe, a former state secretary of education in the Green Mountain State. (The incumbent is Republican Phil Scott.) And in North Carolina, the current state superintendent of public instruction, Mark Johnson, is running for lieutenant governor.

In addition, efforts to shift the balance of power in state legislatures will be fierce in 2020. The Washington Post reports that Democratic leaders and activists groups are aiming to flip control of at least seven legislative chambers, for example. Shifts of party control could have significant implications for funding and policy matters in education. Also, in four states — Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Washington — state superintendents will be on the ballot in 2020, according to the Education Commission of the States. In addition, nine states (plus the District of Columbia) will hold elections for state boards of education.

At the local level, reporters will want to keep an eye on school board elections in their communities. Ballotpedia will be tracking elections in the 200 largest school districts, plus many others that overlap with the 100 largest cities.

Look back at the role education played in the 2018 elections here.

EWA intern Sarah Johnson contributed to this Topics page.

Updated Dec. 20, 2019

Latest News

How Do The Current Democratic Candidates Stack Up On Public Education?

You’d be hard-pressed to find many single-issue voters whose single issue was public education, but if you could find such animals, what could they make of the current set of Democratic contenders? Ignoring other issues, including what may be the biggest question of them all (“How would you get Congress to enact any of this?”), how do the candidates stack up in education?

Read the full story here. 

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This Might End Up Being The Most Expensive LAUSD School Board Primary Ever

Los Angeles is home to the most consequential school board elections in the country. L.A. Unified is the largest school district in the U.S. with an elected board.

On top of being important, L.A.’s school board elections have become expensive. Very expensive. In fact, if the current rate of spending continues, this March’s election will be the costliest LAUSD primary in history.

Read the full story here. 

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Alabama Constitutional Amendment 1: Here’s What you Need to Know

Only one constitutional amendment is on the Alabama primary ballot this year. 

If passed, the most significant effect of the amendment would be eliminating elections for members of a newly renamed Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. Appointed commission members would be limited to a maximum of two terms. 

The appointed commission would also create new statewide education standards over “common core.”  

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Five Candidates Vying For Two Seats On The San Diego Unified Board

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While school boards of past decades focused largely on test scores and budgets, candidates in 2020 are also concerned about issues like school discipline, student health and building relationships with students.

Read the full story here. 

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Read the full story here. 

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Three Republicans and two Democrats are running in primary elections for the open District 5 seat on the State Board of Education, a 15-member panel that makes crucial and often controversial decisions on what gets taught at public schools.

Ken Mercer of San Antonio, a conservative Republican, is not seeking reelection after holding the seat for 14 years.

Read the full story here. 

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Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer’s Education Plan: Triple Title I, Tackle Dropout Rate

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer released an education plan Thursday that calls for tripling federal funding for high-poverty schools, providing universal preschool, and using federal incentives to raise teacher pay.

The billionaire philanthropist also sets an ambitious goal of cutting the dropout rate in half by the end of his first term by establishing a federal task force and requiring states to adopt dropout reduction plans. (Graduation rates are already part of states’ accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act.)

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At the University of New Hampshire, the Topic is College Costs, Student Debt

Four presidential candidates at the University of New Hampshire Thursday talked about college costs and the estimated $1.6 trillion in U.S. student loan debt.

Prior to speeches by the presidential candidates, there was a panel discussion with James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access & Success; Daniella Gibbs Leger, executive vice president for the Center for American Progress Action Fund; and Adam Harris, staff writer for “The Atlantic.”

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N.C. Schools Chief, Amid Crowded GOP Race for Lieutenant Governor, Calls to End Common Core

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, who is campaigning to become North Carolina’s lieutenant governor, announced Thursday that he’s calling for a review of North Carolina’s Common Core math and language arts standards and U.S. history requirements.

Johnson is in a crowded field of Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor in the March primary. Conservatives have been particularly critical of Common Core, viewing it as an attempt to try to create a national curriculum.

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‘Preach it, sister!’ Why the Trump Base Loves Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos may be one of the most hated members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet, constantly mocked by Democrats on the campaign trail.

But away from the multitudes of critics and protesters, DeVos is being deployed like a rock star at Trump events as he makes a concerted push on education issues. The campaign is using DeVos, a devout Christian, to beef up ties with voters who see her as the fiercest defender of conservative education policies like vouchers and free speech on college campuses.

Latest News

‘Preach it, sister!’ Why the Trump Base Loves Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos may be one of the most hated members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet, constantly mocked by Democrats on the campaign trail.

But away from the multitudes of critics and protesters, DeVos is being deployed like a rock star at Trump events as he makes a concerted push on education issues. The campaign is using DeVos, a devout Christian, to beef up ties with voters who see her as the fiercest defender of conservative education policies like vouchers and free speech on college campuses.

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Candidates in Madison School Board Race Up for Primary Weigh in on Top Issues

Three candidates for an open Madison School Board seat aligned on several issues facing the school district while offering their own solutions to other topics during a forum Tuesday.

Candidates were asked what they would do to fix a lack of transparency from the district some people perceive and how they would go about rebuilding the community’s trust.

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Trump Pushes Tax Break to Promote School Choice in State of the Union Address

President Donald Trump used his State of the Union Address Tuesday to urge Congress to greenlight a plan that would provide federal tax credits for scholarships to private schools and other education services, offering the largest stage yet for one of his administration’s key education priorities. “The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Trump said.  “Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.”

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Trump Uses Address to Push for Tax-Credit Scholarships

K-12 education received a rare moment in the national spotlight Tuesday night, as President Trump spent part of his third State of the Union address urging Congress to act on a major piece of pending school choice legislation. 

Speaking before the assembled members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the president prominently endorsed the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act, a bill championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that would change the tax code to help subsidize school choice offerings, including private school tuition. 

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Here’s How Some Big Names in Education Are Spending in the 2020 Presidential Race

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Both are a reflection of the crowded field — and the reality that it’s far from clear who will end up winning the party’s nomination.

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As the cost of college has steadily risen over the past several decades, students across the country are beginning to question if earning an advanced degree is worth it.

While research still consistently shows that earning a college degree leads to higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of unemployment, prominent figures in business have begun vocally proposing an alternative — trade school.

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Who Could Be the Next Secretary of Education After the 2020 Election?

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has shown how politically potent and polarizing ideas like school choice can be when the public attaches them so strongly to a highly visible person. So with the Iowa caucuses upon us, let’s permit ourselves to wonder: Who could be the next secretary of education?

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This Ex-Principal Hopes to Be the Next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Is a future darling of the progressive movement about to move from the principal’s office to Capitol Hill? Jamaal Bowman hopes so. 

The veteran principal of a New York City public school recently left the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School to run full-time against Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in the Democratic primary. Bowman is running to Engel’s left in an attempt to unseat the veteran Democrat, who was first elected to Congress in 1988.