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 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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering the Pandemic Child Care Crisis
Experts discuss how existing inequities have been exacerbated in the strained sector

America’s system of child care was already seriously strained by surging expenses, high staff turnover and dwindling capacity before the pandemic upended everything.

“COVID really just highlighted the pre-existing situations and challenges of the early childhood system across the nation,” said Dionne Dobbins, the senior director of research at Child Care Aware of America, a research and advocacy group. “When COVID hit, it was layering it on top of a very fragile child care system — and, you know, some would say it even shattered.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What’s on the Horizon for Early Childhood Education in 2021?
Local and national preschool efforts provide clues

Eight months into the pandemic, voters in Multnomah County, Oregon, approved a new tax on high earners to fund a program called Preschool For All. 

The action represents a major early childhood investment during a recession that threatens to drive many child care providers out of business. It also puts forth a compelling model for solving some of the problems that publicly funded preschool and child care programs in other states and cities haven’t fully addressed. 

What’s on the Horizon for Early Childhood Education in 2021?

Seminar

74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

EWA 74th National Seminar text graphic

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

Latest News

Biden’s Covid-19 Stimulus Plan Includes $40 Billion For Child Care

America’s child care providers have hit a breaking point.

In a survey last summer, 86 percent said the Covid-19 pandemic had hurt their enrollment. Seventy percent said it had driven up costs. With less money coming in and more going out, just 18 percent believed they could stay open longer than a year without some kind of help.

Those numbers are just one sign of a crisis that’s been brewing ever since the pandemic began spreading across the US.

Latest News

Biden Outlines Plan to Solve Child Care Crisis

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE Biden outlined a sweeping plan Thursday to address the country’s child care crisis.

“We are facing an acute, immediate child care crisis in America, which is exacerbating our economic crisis,” he said in a statement. “If left unaddressed, many child care providers will close – some permanently – and millions of children could go without necessary care, and millions of parents could be left to make devastating choices this winter between caring for their children and working to put food on the table.”

Latest News

Biden Calls for $130 Billion in New K-12 Relief, Scaled Up Testing, Vaccination Efforts

President-elect Joe Biden is calling for $130 billion in additional COVID-19 relief funding for schools, ramped up testing efforts, and accelerated vaccine distribution strategies to help reopen “the majority of K-8 schools” within the first 100 days of his administration.

The proposals, which Biden announced in a speech Thursday night, are part of a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that also seeks $350 billion in aid to state, local, and territorial governments.

Webinar

How Will Your Community Benefit From the New $81 Billion in Pandemic Relief for Education?
Experts explain ins and outs of new aid flowing to schools and universities, and how to track it

How Will Your Community Benefit From the New $81 Billion in Pandemic Relief for Education?

More than $81 billion in new stimulus aid is coming to schools and universities as part of the new federal COVID relief measure. Get a quick introduction to tracking the money that will flow to the schools you cover in this EWA webinar.

Two policy experts explain:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

It’s Not Just About Voting: How Character, Civic Discourse Factor Into Post-Election Lessons
After bruising election cycle, schools are helping students make sense of the political upheaval

A month before Americans voted in the presidential election, the Pew Research Center polled registered Democrats and Republicans to ask what they thought about each other’s political leanings. Pew’s conclusion? The country’s voters “have rarely been as polarized as they are today.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Top Biden Aide Talks Reopening Schools, Education Funding, Charters and More
Provides on-the-record comments in pre-election webinar

President-elect Joe Biden has a far-reaching education agenda that begins with actions to help schools reopen for in-person instruction, as well as plans to reverse key Trump administrative actions and more.

In a recent, on-the-record webinar, the Biden campaign’s national policy director, Stef Feldman, fielded questions from the Education Writers Association and its members around the country.

Webinar

After Election Day, What’s Next for Education?

After Election Day, What’s Next for Education?

What will President-elect Joe Biden’s victory mean for education? How does the uncertainty in political control of the Senate complicate matters? What actions can the Biden administration accomplish through executive action?

Get early indications of likely actions on issues including emergency aid for schools and colleges, civil rights enforcement, Title IX, student loans, and more during this Education Writers Association Webinar.

EWA Radio

Biden vs. Trump: Their Education Plans
From school choice to teacher pay and student debt, what are the presidential candidates promising voters?
(EWA Radio: Episode 252)

screenshot of President Trump and Joe Biden during the October, 22, 2020 presidential debate.

What would a second term for President Donald Trump mean for K-12 and postsecondary education? And conversely, what might change if Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the election? Lauren Camera of U.S. News & World Report and Michael Stratford of Politico Pro break down the candidates’ education policy priorities and share insights from covering their campaigns.

Webinar

Biden Policy Director Talks Education, and Fields Questions

Biden Policy Director Talks Education, and Fields Questions

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

How to Get Voters to Care About School Board Elections
School board races are even more crucial during the pandemic

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.

Webinar

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

The Top 11 Higher Ed Stories Likely to Make Headlines This Year
Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik highlights COVID, Title IX, affirmative action and more

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education Surges to Top Tier of Presidential Race Amid Pandemic
Journalists offer insights, story ideas on covering the schools angle

Education Surges to Top Tier of Presidential Race Amid Pandemic

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.