What the 2014 Elections Mean for Education

In the 2014 state elections will impact three dozen governors and more than 6,000 legislators and will address a variety of education policies, with the Common Core State Standards, school choice, collective bargaining, and early education among the topics. The list of state elections includes 36 gubernatorial contests and legislative races in all but four states (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia). There are also seven elections for state schools superintendent.

This past year Republicans controlled 26 legislatures and 30 governorships nationwide. In total, Republicans control both the executive and legislative branch of government in 23 states, while 15 states are in the hands of Democrats, and 11 are split. Only four legislatures have divided partisan control, down from eight four years ago, when Democrats controlled 27 legislatures.

Since 2011, nine states have adopted A-F school accountability system.  In some states, for instance in Oklahoma, there has been resistance to A-F accountability. Some people in the state have complained that it still doesn’t work as intended, or that it unfairly punishes schools.

In Wisconsin and Michigan where the governors attacked public employees collective bargaining, voters will get a chance to endorse or punish these attacks. It’s far from clear that those dramatic shifts in states’ approaches to public employees will end up hurting lawmakers at the ballot box.

Some state legislatures have made funding cuts which have affected the amount of services supplied to education.

The NEA (National Education Association) has decided to invest more than 80 percent of its 2014 election war chest in state races, the largest-ever percentage the group has devoted to state contests. (At the federal level, all seats in the House of Representatives and 36 Senate seats will also be on the ballot this year.)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican facing a tough re-election bid against one-time Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, proposed a $542 million increase for state education funding. It is the second year in a row that Gov. Scott has pushed such a K-12 funding boost.

Republicans control most state legislatures. Other Republican chief executives, including Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, have put forth education funding increases in their proposed budgets this year. Of the 36 gubernatorial contests, GOP incumbents are running or are eligible to do so in 20.

But the education issue with the biggest peril for state officials in 2014 could be what to do, and say, about the common-core standards. The common core could open the door to discussions including a shortage of resources in the face of new mandates, the privacy of student data, and claims of federal intrusion. The Republican base fears that the common core—an initiative led by groups representing the nation’s governors and state schools chiefs, but with strong federal backing—amounts to federal encroachment on local schools.

At least one GOP governor up for re-election has already taken a firm stance regarding the common core, which covers English/language arts and mathematics. In remarks to a local Republican Party club, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she would sign a state Senate bill repealing the adoption of the common core in her state. She justified her position by saying that children in her state should not be educated in the same way as those in California, reportedly saying, “We are telling the legislature: Roll back common core. Let’s take it back to South Carolina standards.”. Business organizations, like local and state chambers of commerce, might step up their campaign and lobbying efforts.

Gov. Walker, the Wisconsin Republican, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat have claimed dissatisfaction with either the substance of the standards, in the case of Mr. Walker, or how they have been implemented, a concern Mr. Cuomo has expressed. Gov. Walker and Gov. Cuomo have said their states should review the common core again.