Five New Governors to Watch On Education

By Alyson Klein — November 08, 2018 4 min read
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The country just elected at least 17 new governors. And thanks in part to the Every Student Succeeds Act and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ efforts to shrink the U.S. Department of Education, governors will have even more say in K-12 education.

Here are few new faces to keep your eye on:

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.: (As of Thursday afternoon, this nailbiter of an election appeared headed for a recount, though DeSantis’ Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum had conceded earlier in the week.) DeSantis, a congressman, ran as an unabashed Trump supporter in a state where K-12 is still largely defined by policies set in motion by former Gov. Jeb Bush, also a Florida Republican. Bush was a fan of both school choice—Florida’s tax credit scholarship program was established on his watch—and accountability, through Florida’s A through F system for grading schools. He was also a huge fan of the Common Core State Standards. DeSantis campaigned on going even further on choice, in part by raising the cap on the number of students who can receive private school vouchers through the tax credit scholarship program. He wants to allocate 80 percent of K-12 spending directly to the classroom, and provide more funding for merit pay bonuses to outstanding teachers. And he wants to “direct a complete review of Florida’s curriculum standards to ensure that we are not rubber-stamping common core or any other one-size-fits-all standards.” (The common ore is still on the books in Florida and 33 other states, plus the District of Columbia.) He’ll have a Republican-controlled legislature backing him up.

Gov.-elect Tony Evers, D-Wis.: The state education chief wants to increase education spending by $1.4 billion, including new investments in early-childhood education and quality child care, special education, after-school programs, and mental health services. He is seeking to phase out the Milwaukee school voucher program. But he’s likely to face stiff opposition to those moves from the state legislature, which remains in GOP control. Evers made “equity” the theme of his term as president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. In an interview with Education Week in 2016, Evers recalled that when ESSA became law, an influential civil rights leader in his state tweeted that he’d lived through states’ rights and it hadn’t worked out very well, a reference to segregation. “I took that to heart, I took it as a personal obligation” to make equity for all groups a central tenet of Wisconsin’s plan.

Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. - Lujan Grisham, a congresswoman, campaigned on increasing K-12 funding and teacher pay, establishing universal pre-kindergarten, and limiting testing. She wants to ditch the PARCC tests, the state’s A through F grading system, and its rigorous teacher evaluation system, which relies in part on growth in student test scores. She’ll likely have backing from the state legislature, which is under Democratic control.

Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, D-Kan. - Kansas schools have been struggling financially since former Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, slashed both taxes and K-12 spending. The state supreme court has said Kansas has until the end of the next legislative session to hike education funding or risk having public schools shutdown. Kelly, a state senator, favored complying with the court’s demands and finding new money for public schools. She also wants to invest in early-childhood education, career and technical education, and student mental health. But she’ll have to convince a Republican controlled legislature to go along with her plans.

Gov.-elect Jared Polis, D-Colo. - As a member of the House, Polis was a big supporter of charter schools and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which rewarded states for embracing high standards, teacher evaluations based in part on student outcomes, and more. He also worked across the aisle on data-privacy legislation. On the campaign trail, he pledged to fund full-day kindergarten and expand access to preschool. The Democratic-controlled legislature may be on the same page, but Colorado has some major restrictions on raising revenue, and a ballot initiative to increase taxes to pay for schools wasn’t approved.

Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey celebrate after winning the Florida Governor’s race during DeSantis’ party at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Fla. --Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP

Democrat Laura Kelly talks to the crowd at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center in Topeka, Kan., after she defeated Republican Kris Kobach Tuesday night to become the next Kansas governor. --Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, left, and lieutenant governor candidate Mandela Barnes claim victory at their watch party, early Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, Wis. Gov. Scott Walker narrowly lost his bid for a third term to Evers. --Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP

New Mexico Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan-Grisham waves to supporters following her acceptance speech in Albuquerque. -- Juan Labreche/AP

Democrat Jared Polis walks onto the stage at an election night watch party in Denver with running mate Dianne Primavera upon defeating Republican Walker Stapleton in the race for Colorado governor. --AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.