Midterm Wrap-Up: What Happened, and What to Expect

On Tuesday, November 7, citizens across the nation took to the polls for midterm elections. Much was at stake, and many considered the 2018 midterm election to be a direct review of President Trump’s first two years in office. If that’s the case, there were definitely some mixed results after the dust settled and, in many races, it still continues to do so. This post will examine the results of the election and provide insight into how the results may affect education policy moving forward.

Results

While several House and Senate races are still being decided, two things are clear: Democrats have taken control of the House, and Republicans will remain in control of the Senate. As of November 8, Democrats currently hold 225 seats in the House compared to 197 Republicans, with 13 races still too close to call. In the Senate, Democrats currently hold 44 seats compared to Republicans’ 51 seats, with three races still too close to call. I will analyze what this outcome means for education and the 116th Congress further below.

There were several gubernatorial races that will have significant impacts on education in this election as well:

  • Arizona: Governor Doug Ducey (R) defeated his challenger David Garcia (D), a professor of education at Arizona State University. Being the location of one of the nation’s largest teacher strikes ever conducted, education funding was a key factor in this race. Ducey vowed to increase educator salaries by 20 percent by 2020, but many in the state are skeptical over his commitment and plan to do so.
  • Florida: Former House Representative Ron DeSantis (R) defeated Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum (D) in one of the nation’s most high-profile races. Gillum is a strong supporter of increasing teacher pay and investing in early-childhood education. DeSantis has pledged to expand a Florida school choice program that provides tax breaks for individuals and corporations that donate to organizations that give private school scholarships to low-income students.
  • Wisconsin: In one of the nation’s closest races, State Superintendent Tony Evers (D) defeated two-term Governor Scott Walker (R). Walker came under fire for many actions that led to over $800 million in cuts to education funding. Evers pledged to reverse these harmful cuts by boosting education spending by more than $1.7 billion.
  • Kansas: Education funding played a key role in the Kansas gubernatorial election after former Governor Sam Brownback enacted drastic cuts to K–12 funding. State Senator Laura Kelly (D) ran on a platform of increasing funding for the state’s schools, and it helped her in defeating her opponent Kris Kobach (R), who promised to continue limiting K–12 spending.
  • Michigan: Gretchen Whitmer (D) managed to defeat Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) in Secretary Betsy DeVos’ home state. Whitmer, a former professor at the University of Michigan, vowed to work to improve Michigan’s struggling education system, often rebuking many of the former initiatives supported by DeVos in the state.
  • Minnesota: Former high school geography teacher Tim Walz (D) defeated Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (R) to gain control of the governorship. Johnson was a large supporter of vouchers and other school choice policies. Walz’s main goals are to index future education budgets in the state to inflation and to cut down on class sizes.
  • New Mexico: In a member-on-member race, Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) defeated Representative Steve Pearce (R). Lujan Grisham supported eliminating New Mexico’s stringent A–F school grading system, increasing pay for teachers, and expanding access to pre-K.
  • Colorado: Representative Jared Polis (D), former ranking member on the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, defeated State Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R). Polis plans to stabilize funding for education in the state and examine new ways to ensure all students have access to effective education.

There were also numerous important ballot initiatives that have significant impacts on education:

  • Voters in five states approved measures to boost school funding, including Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Georgia. You can find more information about these initiatives here.
  • Unfortunately, voters in Colorado rejected an initiative that would have poured an estimated $1.6 billion into public education. The initiative would have gathered these funds by raising corporate and state income taxes for people earning $150,000 annually.
  • Arizona saw one of the largest wins for public education as voters strongly rejected an expansion of the state’s education savings account program. Had the initiative been approved, it would have made over 1.1 million students eligible for the state’s voucher-like program, which could have had a devastating effect on Arizona’s public education system.
  • Oklahomans narrowly rejected a measure that would have allowed school leaders to use funding typically reserved for school construction and use it in other ways, such as for increasing teacher salaries, textbooks, or other classroom costs.

Educators Emerge as Political Candidates

As mentioned above, former geography teacher Tim Walz (D) won his race for governor, but one interesting aspect of the 2018 midterm election was the large increase in educators that ran for state and federal seats across the country. In Kentucky, at least 10 current or former teachers won seats in the Kentucky Legislature. In Oklahoma, the sight of 2018’s largest teacher strike, 19 current, former, or retired teachers won their races. The National Education Association has identified over 1,800 educators running for state legislative seats across the country and will continue tracking these races as results are decided.

At the federal level, educators ran and lost in races for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District and Alaska’s at-large seat in the House. However, 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes (D) did win her congressional bid for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.

116th Congress

With the postelection federal landscape beginning to take shape, we can begin to make some predictions into how education may change during the 116th Congress. One important aspect is the shakeup of committee leadership in the House. Democrats will now have their ranking members rise to the role of chairperson after taking control. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) is set to chair the House Appropriations Committee, with Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) poised to chair the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. DeLauro is a strong supporter of increasing education spending and is extremely vocal in her support. She has a close working relationship with Chairwoman Lowey, which may mean a larger allocation for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill moving forward, possibly leading to an increase in funding for federal education programs.

The House Education and Workforce Committee will see some more drastic changes. Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) will become chairman, and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) will now become ranking member. The committee makeup will also change drastically as seven Republicans on the committee have either left office or been defeated in their reelection bids. Scott has already begun to discuss some of his plans for the committee moving forward. The first and simplest change for the committee will be changing its name to the House Education and Labor Committee, its usual name under the Democrats. One of Scott’s main priorities is to hold DeVos and the Department of Education (ED) more accountable for their recent actions, with a specific focus on protecting students’ civil rights. Scott states that Democrats “must hold the Trump administration accountable for attacking students’ civil rights.” With subpoena power, the Democrats can now call upon DeVos and ED to answer for some of their recent actions, including:

  • DeVos’ approval of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans that Democrats believe don’t properly protect disadvantaged students
  • The delayed implementation of the Obama rule for special education dealing with how districts disproportionally identify students of color as in need of special education services
  • DeVos’ repeated attempts to cut the Office for Civil Rights’ budget in recent spending proposals
  • The revoking of both the Obama transgender bathroom guidance and the Obama K–12 racial diversity guidance
  • DeVos’ continued consideration to also revoke the Obama school discipline guidance, which seeks to reduce the disproportionate rate that students of color and students with disabilities receive suspensions and expulsions

In terms of legislation, Scott has identified two key priorities, the first of which is legislation related to improving school infrastructure. In May of 2017, Scott introduced the Rebuild America’s School Act. This bill, which NASSP supports, would create a $70 billion grant program and $30 billion tax credit bond program to improve school buildings in high-poverty schools. This bill would also establish a national database on the condition of public school facilities. This goal of Scott’s seems very achievable. President Trump has long called for an infrastructure package aimed at job growth and improving the nation’s infrastructure. School infrastructure would be something that Democrats and Republicans would most likely agree needs to be addressed, and both could work together early next Congress to give each party a bipartisan win.

Scott’s second legislative priority and more long-term goal will be much harder to complete, unfortunately. As concerns continue to grow around the nation’s student debt crisis, many are looking for Congress to update and reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), including Scott. In July, House Democrats introduced their version of an updated HEA, the Aim Higher Act. This bill was introduced in direct response to the Republican PROSPER Act. Both bills are very far apart in many ways, and a middle ground seems to be difficult to find. Also, the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee will have a very similar makeup as it did during the 115th Congress, with Republicans retaining control of the Senate. In the 115th Congress, Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) were unable to work together to strike a deal on an HEA rewrite. Because of this, any bill on HEA will need to be bipartisan, which will be very difficult to achieve.

Lame Duck

Even as we look ahead to next Congress, there is still plenty of work to complete in the 115th. Congress passed several minibus deals to fund programs for FY 2019, but seven bills still remain. Congress must reach a deal on these last seven spending bills by December 7, when the current continuing resolution expires, to avoid a government shutdown. Fortunately, funding for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill has already been completed and the budget numbers for FY 2019 are very promising. You can learn more about the funding levels for NASSP’s priorities here.

While the 2018 midterm election was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of positives and negatives for education, one point was proven: Public education is important to the American public. The significant increase in educators running for office, the approval of noteworthy ballot initiatives, and the election of federal officials that oppose DeVos’ dangerous initiatives and programs show that Americans continue to support public education and are becoming more vocal in doing so. NASSP urges all of its members to continue the fight for public education well beyond this election by contacting your members of Congress. You can also meet with your legislators directly and find other effective ways to advocate by participating in the annual NASSP Advocacy Conference. Only through continued advocacy will federal and state officials understand the investment that is necessary to ensure our nation’s educators, schools, and students are successful.

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