Education in the midterm elections: Who’s coming out on top?

Support is growing for school choice while voters also favored candidates who ran with positive messages about public education.

“School choice won big” is one mainstream conservative think tank’s take on education in the midterm elections. But a leading teachers union has declared “educators, parents, and students won big.”

“Overwhelmingly, voters chose candidates with a clear vision of how to support public schools and rejected extremists who sought to politicize classrooms and defund education,” the National Education Association said in its assessment of education in the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, The Heritage Foundation told proponents of education choice that they should feel encouraged by the results.

“As education choice becomes more widely available to more families, policymakers are waking up to the reality that it needn’t be a partisan issue,” write Jason Bedrick and Lindsey Burke of the Foundation’s Center for Education Policy. “Education choice is, rightly, now being viewed not as a Democrat-versus-Republican cause but as parent-oriented versus special-interest oriented.”

Where are states headed?

While Bedrick and Burke detailed the shifts toward school choice that are taking place in many states, including those where Democrats are in control, the NEA proclaimed on its list of takeaways that voters “overwhelmingly” supported candidates who ran on positive messages about public education. The union’s president, Becky Pringle, congratulated parents and voters for rejecting extreme politicians who “engaged in the politics of division.”

NEA pointed to the reelection of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a strong proponent of public education and former educator who easily defeated his Republican opponent in a race that some had expected to be much closer. The results were similar in Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won a clear victory while making an increased investment in public education a key part of her platform. Michigan voters also gave Democrats control of the state legislature for the first time in decades.

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The union also noted wins for education-related ballot measures, such as Massachusetts’ Fair Share Amendment, which progressively taxes the very wealthy to fund schools and other public services. Illinois voters codified the right to collective bargaining into the state constitution while New Mexico voters approved an estimated $84.6 million for public education and $126.9 million for early childhood.

But a Republican-controlled House of Representatives would likely kill universal pre-K and free college and block any Democratic attempt to provide more rounds of education funding as ESSER expires, education expert Frederick Hess wrote on Education Next. Regardless of the party in control, slim majorities in the House and Senate may likely mean that Congress will accomplish little in the way of education reform or new policy, Hess adds.

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Educators may also want to take notice of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ landslide reelection, which can also be read as an endorsement of his stances against critical race theory, teaching about LGBTQ issues in schools, and “wokeness,” Hess advises.

What about school boards?

Right-leaning candidates have been filling seats on school boards, particularly in red states, since the mask disputes of COVID morphed into battles over book banning, transgender and LGBTQ students’ rights, and teaching about racism.

The NEA says 71% of the candidates endorsed by its affiliates won school board races this fall. In Austin, Texas—a state that has been a hotbed for book bans and LGBTQ restrictions—the five candidates backed by a local union, Education Austin, won seats on the city school board.

Some 55% of school board candidates who took conservative stances on issues such as race and gender won their races, according to The Washington Post‘s analysis or results compiled by Ballotpedia. 

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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