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Mid-term Election Implications for Education Policy #EPFPaskED the NASBE Election Team

Thursday, November 29, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sarah McCann
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What are the biggest education policy take-aways from the 2018 mid-term election?

At a national level, it wasn’t like 2016 when voters sent a clear message. Most importantly, this election emphasizes how critically important states are going to be in the next couple of years. This is where the action is going to be.

Some new governors have bold education agendas. Some Governors-elect, such as Pritzker in Illinois, are saddled with horrific budget issues that are going to make it tough to do much else in the policy arena. We also have #RedforEd teachers who are going to be there, with a louder voice. In the midst of all of this change, the stable center is going to be the State Board of Education, partly by design because their terms do not roll off at the end of this year. We will have 20 new Governors but there are two ways that make these changes more tempered. Of the 20 new Governors, about 12 will be appointing state board members. That won’t happen right away in January because of the longer terms (such as seven years in GA, nine in MS). Secondly, staggered terms mean there is more continuity and stability. Many board members will stay on and provide continuity, because education change, as we know, doesn’t happen in a year or two years. It’s important to have that sense of history and ability to keep an agenda moving forward.

In some examples (MA, TN), it hasn’t mattered who was in the Governor’s mansion. In these states, bipartisan long-term efforts continue work on a set of policy agreements that the state made regardless of party. Viewing from 10,000 feet, they’ve bought into that same set of agreements and that doesn’t change just because of an election cycle. States that have gone through changes before and committed to strategic plans have engaged diverse stakeholders so there’s a wealth of committed people beyond elected officials operating in support of their desired education outcomes.

There are some state issues that didn’t seem to permeate at the Federal level. Governors now are more likely to talk about wanting to be a “workforce” governor than an “education” governor, but you can’t be a workforce governor if you aren’t an education governor. This came up frequently and we expect it to move forward. School finance will continue forward post-election and keep those conversations going. ESSA plans have a March 1 deadline for amendments. We’re going to watch those states whose plans are shifting based on a new Governor’s direction.

What state-level results have the biggest education policy implications?

Sometimes change can be political but not partisan, for example CA. Governor Brown had a very specific and clear vision working with State Board of Education President Mike Kirst, and had 4 terms to bring it to fruition. That is ending and he’s succeeded by a Democrat, but you will still see a shift on some priorities. Even though it’s the same party it is a transition of power.

Some other places might see even less of an emphasis on change. One is Wisconsin. We might not see a big upheaval in education emphasis because Tony Evers is changing chairs ( moving from being the State Superintendent to becoming the Governor). He’s staked out education equity in the campaign, and he will have some budget levers to address that priority. For example, if you as a district add pre-k for 4 year olds, the state budget will support you. We can also expect less contentiousness between teacher organizations and the governor than under Walker.

Kansas was interesting in the primaries because the sitting governor wasn’t nominated, but he had been able to build support inside the education policy community. The transition to a governor from a different party may in fact be more seamless. Kansas started developing their strategic goals several years ago in a ground-up way by talking to communities all over the state. In the best cases, this kind of engagement preceded ESSA, but that consultation process opened the door for some states who did serious talking and listening to communities. Over the long haul, that work pays off.

In terms of State Board elections, it gets less talked about but partisan board elections are something we watch to see if there will be a flip in party or agenda. Four out of five maintained their current party split this time. Michigan is the one state that shifted. It was a board that was evenly split (4-4) before the election. Two Republican seats were up, and both went to the Democratic candidate, so the board is now 6-2 Democratic. There’ve been lots of bipartisan discussions and resolutions, which is interesting to see from 2016 to now. Colorado is also partisan but has seven members. It was 4-3 both before and after the election, which actually reflects the politics of the state right now.

Question from Twitter: Will having more elected teachers in legislatures mean improvement in salaries and increased respectful conditions for teachers? #EPFPaskED

News media have downplayed the impact of what teachers accomplished in this mid-term cycle. Even though there was a magical belief that teachers could win in districts drawn to their opponents, 2018 was a very impressive showing for teachers. On the strength of those who were elected, will we have specific improvements? No, we can’t guarantee this, but there will be more sensitivity and awareness of teachers. Smart legislative bodies will put teachers on relevant committees. You may not have a majority of teachers on a committee or particular legislative body but you can still have tremendous influence by the questions you ask, statements you make, and way that you vote. It can have an outside impact. Teachers are likely to continue running, and winning. This is how chambers are flipped – seat by seat.

This speaks to a larger dynamic, that there is energy in a mid-term election. Voter turnout was astronomical! A record-breaking number. So we see that when teachers are running for office this is citizen engagement at its best. It puts an energized base to work for an education agenda and they’ll run for local school boards, city and county councils. It’s not going to stop. Elected office is not the only opportunity for teacher voice. We need active voices in policy conversations to make sure we’re hearing from practitioners in continuous improvement processes. Superintendents can empower and empanel them to do the work.

What are the implications of these elections on Federal education policy?

It’s going to be a long developmental process because anything is going to have to get through a Decmoratic House and a Republican Senate to pass. As we saw with ESSA, it is possible to do that. The Higher Education Act is a place where we’re more likely than not to see some finished legislation in the next Congress. The Education Sciences Reform Act has been bubbling along and not getting over the finish line. That may happen. There will also be some really difficult budget decisions next year.

People are hoping that Congressman Bobby Scott, ranking member of the Committee on Education & the Workforce is working on equity issues from the beginning. He is expressing interest in an education infrastructure bill which is a potential place to find common ground between parties. He represents an urban district in VA, but there are schools in small rural districts in red states that are in real need of infrastructure help, so could put together a coalition to support that.

Congress will certainly want to question some of the Department for Educations’ rulings, such as Title IX and rescinding Obama’s discipline guidance. We can expect some policy disagreements, but Bobby Scott is not likely, based on his past performance, to beat up on Secretary DeVos. 

Lastly, what is your advice for leaders in the changing dynamics of education policy?

Seeking common ground, for example, early childhood education. Folks who are D’s and R’s are going to come around an issue like this. Cooperating and finding consensus is a habit that you can develop. Develop some trust so that you can take on the next issue. If it isn’t quite as clearly popular but you’ve learned how to work together, you know whose word is good and who you can work through thorny issues with. 

Thank you to Kris Amundson, Joseph Hedger, and Abigail Potts of the National Association of State Boards of Education for answering Education Policy Fellowship Program questions about the November 2018 elections!

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