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

National Education Association, Nation’s Largest Union, Endorses Joe Biden for President

The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country, endorsed former vice president Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination late Saturday, calling him “a tireless advocate for public education” and saying members are ready “to use their power” to elect him to the White House.

Read the full story here.

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This time around, the Nampa School District passed a supplemental levy, after failing by the narrowest of margins in November. And for north-central Idaho’s Kamiah School District, a supplemental levy has narrowly passed — a year after the cash-strapped district had to close its middle school. All told, 41 school districts sought levies Tuesday. Here are some key results.

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Bernie’s Billion-Dollar Education Plan: Sanders’s Proposal Would Dramatically Expand Magnet Funding to Integrate America’s Racially Isolated Schools. But Will It Work?

His education platform, released a day after Brown’s 65th anniversary and dubbed the Thurgood Marshall Plan for a Quality Public Education for All, seeks to pump $1 billion in federal money to magnet schools as a way to promote racial integration. The schools, which came to prominence in the 1970s, often offer specialized programs such as arts education to entice white families to enroll their children in integrated settings. The Sanders plan would provide nearly 10 times the current level of federal investment in magnet schools.

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School Bonds Usually are a Cinch in California — What Happened this Time?

For a generation, school bonds have been more or less a slam dunk in California. Locally and statewide, voters consistently have supported borrowing to build and maintain classrooms. 

Not this election. As the state slowly tallies the returns from Super Tuesday, the numbers are painting a decidedly unfamiliar picture: Proposition 13, the sweeping $15 billion bond for school construction, was trailing late Thursday with only 44.6% approval. 

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Governors’ annual State of the State addresses are windows into what’s likely to be at the top of state education agendas in the coming year — and what’s not. FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, analyzed the 41 gubernatorial speeches delivered so far this year and found that while every state leader highlighted the importance of education, the governors talked a lot more about expanding educational opportunities than improving the performance of the nation’s schools and colleges.

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Proposal to Let 16-Year-Olds Vote in Colorado School Board Elections Advances

The next time candidates campaign for school board seats in Colorado, they might have a new voting bloc to consider.

Legislation that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections cleared the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday. That same committee voted down similar legislation last year amid concerns from county clerks, who run these elections, and the Colorado Association of School Boards. Some have questioned if the idea is constitutional.

Latest News

Los Angeles School Board Races Appear Headed for Runoff Elections
Michael Burke

Two school board races in Los Angeles appear headed to runoffs in November, setting up a pivotal election this fall for California’s largest school district.

Union-backed candidates have an opportunity to claim a majority on the next school board if they sweep all four races in the election. Charter-backed candidates need to win one race to win a majority. 

Read the full story here.  

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Chicago Teachers Union Leaders Back Sanders, Becoming Latest to Offer Personal Endorsements as Unions Tread Carefully
Kalyn Belsha

Two leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union announced Wednesday that they were personally endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The show of support is the latest in a flurry of personal endorsements from top teachers union leaders, even as the unions they run have hesitated to get behind a single candidate. 

Read the full story here. 

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Alabama Voters Reject Plan To Fire State School Board

Amendment One appears headed for a resounding defeat, with early results showing Alabama voters trust themselves more than the governor when it comes to selecting who runs the state’s public schools. So, it looks like business as usual tomorrow in Alabama’s schools.

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Working Moms Are No Longer a Niche Group. Will 2020 Be Their Moment?
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Despite these overwhelming numbers, the federal government does little to subsidize child care. That hurts working moms, who are more likely than working dads to leave their jobs when they can’t find child care, according to a survey conducted by the liberal think tank, Center for American Progress. And working moms were 40 percent more likely than working dads to say that child care issues had negatively affected their careers.

Latest News

AFT President Endorses Warren: ‘It Would Be Great to Send a Teacher to the White House’
Evie Blad

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten endorsed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign Saturday, days before crucial Super Tuesday contests in 14 states.

In her endorsement, Weingarten cited Warren’ts plans for education, health care, and student debt, and her qualities as a “smart and strategic debater and thinker.”

Read the full story here. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Super Tuesday: The Education Angles
What's at stake for public education in the 2020 election?

A flurry of education-related conversation surfaced at the most recent Democratic presidential debate on Feb. 25, as candidates exchanged jabs and defended their positions on charter schools, student loan debt, and setting up young people for meaningful careers.

The 10th debate came at a pivotal moment, just days before voters in 14 states will cast their ballots on Super Tuesday (March 3). With education taking a back seat in prior debates, the rapid-fire discussion caught the attention of education journalists and pundits.

Key Coverage

As Public Schools Grow More Diverse, School Board Elections Largely Determined by White Voters

It’s well known that America’s teachers don’t look much like the country’s students. It turns out that the voters who elect America’s school boards don’t, either.

A new study appears to be the first of its kind to quantify the demographic mismatch, and it’s sizable. Across four states, including California, researchers estimate that school board voters are much whiter and more affluent than the public school student body.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Presidential Candidates Face the Charter Schools Test

In September 2008, with polls showing him in a statistical dead heat with Republican presidential nominee John McCain, Barack Obama proposed doubling the federal funding for charter schools. As president, Obama was a champion of charters and also used mechanisms such as his Race to the Top education initiative to spark their expansion.