Stakes Are High For K-12 Policy In 2014 Elections

State elections in 2014 will have significant impact on various education policies such as Common Core State Standards, school choice, collective bargaining, and early education. These elections could determine the future of controversial education measures that were enacted due to Republicans’ success in the 2010 elections. There are 36 gubernatorial contests and legislative races in almost all states, except for Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia. Additionally, there are seven elections for state schools superintendent and several ballot initiatives related to K-12 education.

As of last week, the GOP controlled 26 legislatures and 29 governorships nationwide. They have full control of both the executive and legislative branches in 23 states, while Democrats have control over 15 states. 11 states have divided government, and Nebraska has a nonpartisan legislature. Only four legislatures have divided partisan control, down from eight four years ago when Democrats controlled 27 legislatures. After the 2010 elections, legislators and governors have been proactive in implementing new policies that affect school accountability, teacher evaluation, and school employment. For instance, nine states have adopted A-F school accountability systems since 2011, with most of these states having elected new Republican governors in 2010 or since.

The issue of school ratings based on the A-F system can be politically challenging. In Oklahoma, where Superintendent Janet Barresi, a Republican, is seeking re-election, resistance to A-F accountability and its implementation in the state could play a role. Despite revisions to the system, concerns remain about its effectiveness and fairness.

The 2014 elections will also gauge public response and the strength of changes made to reduce public employees’ collective bargaining power, championed by GOP leaders such as Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. Rick Snyder. Walker faced an unsuccessful recall election in 2012 due to his push for those changes. However, it’s unclear if these shifts in collective bargaining will negatively impact lawmakers at the ballot box. The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union with 3 million members, plans to invest over 80 percent of its election funds in state races, indicating the significance of these elections for education.

The pressure from influential education groups, like the NEA, could already be having an effect as seen with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to increase state education funding by $542 million. This is the second year in a row that Gov. Scott has advocated for such a boost in K-12 funding. Republicans currently control most state legislatures, but Democrats have narrow margins in the Colorado and Iowa Senates, while Republicans have similar margins in the Iowa House and Wisconsin Senate.

(Source: National Conference of State Legislatures)

Anxiety over the Common-Core Standards is proving to be a significant education issue in 2014. State officials are faced with the dilemma of what actions to take and what to say about these standards. Both the left and the right are concerned about how the common core may impact other K-12 issues such as resource shortage, student data privacy, and claims of federal intrusion. However, Republican officials involved in primary elections over the spring and summer may find the common core issue particularly challenging. Defending the standards vigorously might not benefit these GOP candidates, as most states have already adopted them. In fact, they have much to lose by doing so, especially among voters in the Republican base who feel that the common core is an intrusion on local schools by the federal government. These voters are upset with their state governments for not rejecting the common core. Their dissatisfaction is evident in the moms protesting at the statehouses. One advocacy group called the American Principles Project, which opposes the common core, has worked with a Republican candidate, Sheri Few, who is running for South Carolina superintendent.

Some GOP governors up for re-election are taking a strong stance against the common core. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has already stated that she would sign a bill repealing the adoption of the common core in her state. She argues that children in South Carolina should not be educated in the same way as those in California. Even candidates who do not openly oppose the standards are careful with their language when the common core is brought up in debates and interviews. They try to protect themselves or simply state that they support standards without explicitly endorsing the common-core standards. Business organizations are also likely to increase their efforts to support governors and legislators who face questions about the common core during election campaigns.

Two governors, Gov. Walker of Wisconsin (Republican) and Gov. Cuomo of New York (Democrat), have expressed their dissatisfaction with the common core. They have called for a review of the standards in their respective states due to concerns about the substance of the standards and their implementation. It is possible that more governors will try to shield the common core and their re-election bids through executive orders. These orders would assert the states’ control over content standards without completely abandoning the common core.

The gubernatorial race in Texas to replace Republican Gov. Rick Perry is an interesting case study regarding the influence of education in campaigns. Texas Senator Wendy Davis, a Democratic candidate, has proposed education policies that she shares with reporters during education roundtables.

During an interview with Texas radio station KFYO on January 21st, Governor Abbott expressed his concerns about adopting a standardized method for K-12 education. Instead, he emphasized the importance of school choice, although he did not explicitly endorse vouchers as a means to help parents enroll their children in private schools. Governor Abbott acknowledged that teachers desire less interference from the government in order to have greater autonomy at the local level. He also recognized the genuine dedication of educators, noting that they are driven by a passion to educate children, despite being aware that they are inadequately compensated for their efforts.


  • baileywilliams

    Bailey Williams is an educational blogger and school teacher who uses her blog as a way to share her insights and knowledge with her readers. She has been teaching for over 10 years and has a deep understanding of the school system and how to help students reach their goals. Her blog is packed full of helpful information and resources, so be sure to check it out if you're looking for help with your schoolwork!