Education and the 2020 Elections


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 Democratic nominee for the White House, former Vice President Joe Biden, brings stark differences with President Donald Trump on education, from federal spending (Biden wants more, Trump wants less) to policy preferences and even enforcement priorities at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. 

Biden’s education agenda includes a call to triple funding for the federal Title I program for disadvantaged students, expand opportunities for “highly effective teachers” to remain in the classroom while advancing their careers, and help educators to pay off student loans. His campaign also is proposing to increase the number of school psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses and social workers in schools. In addition, he has proposed plans to increase “high quality” career and technical education, dramatically expand federal aid for child care and preschool, and make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all families with incomes below $125,000, among other proposals.

In August, Biden named U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Harris made headlines in the Democratic primary season when she challenged Biden on school segregation during a candidates’ debate.

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.

Meanwhile, 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 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 is 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 August 15, 2020.

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Texas is Currently Leading the Nation in Youth Voter Turnout

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“As of October 21, more than 3 million young people (ages 18-29) have already voted early or absentee in the 2020 elections,” researchers wrote, speaking of the overall U.S. turnout. “The numbers are especially dramatic in a state like Texas, where at least 490,000 young people have already cast ballots.”

These numbers are likely higher because Texas data is only available in 23 counties, which researchers say constitute about 65% of the state’s population.

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If elected president, what would Joe Biden do for education? Although campaign plans face plenty of obstacles when it’s time to govern, the former vice president has rolled out a sweeping education agenda, from the earliest years through college and beyond.

The Democratic nominee also has developed a “road map to reopening schools safely” amid the pandemic, and has been sharply critical of President Trump’s approach.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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School board races typically get short shrift in election coverage. On ballots, they’re often relegated to the last pages, along with district court judges and densely worded ballot measures.

But school board members play a key leadership and oversight role in local public schools. During the pandemic, that includes an important new responsibility: largely deciding whether (and when) shuttered campuses will reopen, as well as setting the parameters for remote or hybrid learning.


A Reporter’s Guide to Covering the 2020 Youth Vote

A Reporter’s Guide to Covering the 2020 Youth Vote

Young voters could have a decisive impact on elections this fall at the local, state, and federal levels — if enough of them cast a ballot. Historically, young people (ages 18 to 29) vote at much lower levels than their parents — or their grandparents. 

And additional obstacles are making it tougher for college students to vote this year, analysts say, such as fewer polling stations on college campuses and confusion over voter registration rules for students who have moved back home during the pandemic.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

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COVID-19 will continue to be a major story topic for the 2020-21 school year, but reporters should also look at the future of affirmative action and race on college campuses, according to Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik.

Jaschik, veteran higher education journalist and editor, listed his top 11 topics he thinks every higher education reporter should be ready to cover.

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Blog: The Educated Reporter

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Education is not typically an issue that comes to the forefront in presidential races.

But months of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic have elevated conversations about how schools and elected officials are tackling the issue. In fact, education took a front seat in high-stakes negotiations this summer over a federal stimulus bill that has stalled.

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But as the presidential election draws nearer, remote learning is just one of many education policy concerns on the ballot. College affordability, sexual assault policies and charter schools could see widespread changes depending on whether President Trump or Joe Biden wins the electoral college come November.


Covering Student Voting: Exclusive Opportunity for EWA Members
ProPublica offers EWA members free training

At 1 p.m. Eastern on August, 18, 2020 ProPublica will be offering a webinar on the challenges college students are facing to cast a ballot this year. The speakers will be Campus Vote Project Deputy Director Raaheela Ahmed, Texas State Coordinator Maya Patel, and Fair Elections Center Senior Counsel Michelle Kanter Cohen.

Attendance at this webinar is limited to EWA members and ProPublica’s Electionland partners.

Register now to reserve your seat!

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Read the full story here. 

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Blog: The Educated Reporter

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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.