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.

Latest News

In Crackdown On Race-Related Content, Education Department Targets Internal Book Clubs, Meetings

The Education Department plans to scrutinize a wide range of employee activities — including internal book clubs — in search of “Anti-American propaganda” and discussions about “white privilege” as it carries out the White House’s demand that federal agencies halt certain types of race-related training.

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.

Latest News

Joe Biden’s and President Trump’s Education Policy Stances Widely Diverge

With the “will they, won’t they” of school reopenings as one of the most divisive debates of pandemic America, education policy is enjoying a rare moment at center stage.

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.

Announcement

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!

Latest News

With Nation Focused on Reopening Schools, Biden’s Choice of Kamala Harris as Running Mate Could Renew Attention on Integration

Their heated exchange over school busing during a Democratic presidential debate last year was one of the more dramatic moments of the primary season. But now former vice president Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris share the ticket and could make education a more defining issue in their effort to unseat President Donald Trump.

Read the full story here. 

Latest News

Superintendent Race Offers Two Visions for Pasco Schools

When Kurt Browning first ran for superintendent in 2012, the political winds were at his back.

Browning argued that Pasco, one of the relatively few districts with an elected superintendent, needed a strong manager to run the billion-dollar organization and bring it to the next level of academic achievement. “We can do so much more,” he declared, calling the system’s accountability performance “mediocre.”

Latest News

Congress’s Ideological Divide Has Stymied Aid for Pandemic-Stricken Schools

Republicans and Democrats in Congress say they agree that a new stimulus package must include billions of dollars to help schools struggling financially and logistically to resume education this month and next.

But the parties are digging in over profound ideological differences, especially the divide between Democratic demands for public education spending and a Republican push to channel federal dollars into vouchers that families could use at private schools willing to open for in-person classes.

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.