By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow
2018 was huge for education politics. Teacher evaluation systems were on the ballot. Democrats Andrew Cuomo (NY) and Jared Polis (CO) and Republican Bill Lee (TN) won gubernatorial races defending tough evaluation systems while Democrat Michelle Grisham (NM) won her gubernatorial race campaigning on eliminating her state’s system. School choice was on the ballot. Democrat gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsome (CA) won calling for a moratorium on charter schools and Republican Ron DeSantis (FL) won supporting public and private choice options. Some states’ voters approved tax initiatives to fund education while others rejected them. It wasn’t just issues on the ballot. 1,800 educators campaigned for governorships, state legislatures, and congress. Democrat Tony Evers, a school superintendent, defeated Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker while Connecticut elected 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes to Congress.
Now that the dust has settled on the 2018 midterms, where does education politics go from here? Education Week hosted stakeholders at George Washington University to discuss the future of education politics. Here are some takeaways:
• The Future is ESSA: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has approved plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These plans vary as states have significant flexibility in implementing the law. While it’s too early to analyze its impact on student achievement, the first national overhaul of education following the No Child Left Behind Act will be ripe with research opportunities.
• States forge ahead without Feds: Partly design, partly frustration. ESSA intentionally transfers power to states in deciding how to measure student progress and turnaround low-performing schools. President Trump made his intentions clear in a 2017 executive order instructing DeVos to modify or repeal regulations or guidance that infringes on state and local school control. States have also challenged the federal government on issues such as regulating student loan servicers.
• America is still Red for Ed: The movement that saw teacher strikes in traditionally red states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma and ushered educators into elected office isn’t fading. Former principal and North Carolina State House candidate Aimy Steele spoke of valuable lessons learned on how to organize, petition government, and use the legislative process to fight for students. Social Studies teacher and newly elected Oklahoma House Representative John Waldron said “you don’t get what you want for your kids by asking nicely.” Policymakers are on notice that they must move the needle on teacher pay and working conditions. Polis has already pledged to create affordable housing for Colorado’s teachers. West Virginia has done the same.
Education politics has the wind at its back. Hopefully this momentum can be sustained to tackle long pressing issues around equity, school violence, mental health, college preparation and affordability, and attracting and retaining high quality teachers for vulnerable student populations. Education Week’s Editor-in-Chief Scott Montgomery says, “our system of politics, our system of education are not meeting expectations.”America must maintain pressure on both systems in 2019 and beyond if we hope to see meaningful results.