Federal

K-12 Policy at Play as Two States Pick Governors This Year

By Daarel Burnette II — September 12, 2017 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There are 36 governor seats up for grabs next year and—based on the K-12 issues animating the 2017 contests nearing their climax in New Jersey and Virginia—testing, teacher shortages, and funding formulas are likely to remain hot topics on the campaign trail.

Education has taken a prominent spot in both those states in this off-year election, with the Republican and Democratic nominees posting policy papers prominently on their campaign websites, along with educators’ testimonials, and heart-tugging commercials featuring candidates relaying their passion for the future of the states’ K-12 system.

This comes as governors nationwide are poised to play a greater role in setting education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act. That point isn’t lost on education advocacy groups, teachers’ unions, and the candidates themselves.

“We see time in and time out that education has been a big driver in thinking for gubernatorial candidates,” said Javaid E. Siddiqi, the executive director of the Hunt Institute, which trains state politicians about education issues. Governors are expected to use their bully pulpits to sketch out long-term statewide goals and use their budget to prioritize education spending, Siddiqi said.

On the policy front, an unusually high number of states in the coming years plan to overhaul their state funding formulas, figure out ways to reverse teacher shortages, and revise their school accountability systems.

“Governors are going to be, whether they want to or not, thrust into the limelight and forced to lead on several education policy decisions in their states,” Siddiqi said.

Hitting the Trail

Of the 38 races between now and next November, 19 are guaranteed to install new governors since incumbents have either reached their term limits or announced they won’t run for re-election. More than 6,000 state legislative seats, or 82 percent, will be up for election.

This year’s New Jersey and Virginia contests offer a glimpse of what’s to come.

Ed Gillepsie The Republican candidate for governor of Virginia backs more school choice, greater autonomy for teachers, and cracking down on under-performing schools.

In Virginia, with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe having reached his single-term limit, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, a business owner and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is running against Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, a physician and the state’s current lieutenant governor. Recent polls show the candidates tied.

Also running is Libertarian Cliff Hyra.

Virginia, like many other states, is at a policy crossroads when it comes to improving its K-12 system. ESSA forced the state board of education to create a new accountability system after operating several congruent state and federal accreditation and accountability systems at once for the last several years. That put the state’s school turnaround efforts, teacher evaluations, and school choice policies on the political frontline in recent months.

On the school choice front, Virginia has only nine charter schools, and charter proponents have pushed in recent years to change the state’s authorizing process.

Similarly, angst over teacher pay came to a boil last year after the legislature passed a bill forcing the state to come up with a way to raise salaries. Whoever wins in November will likely have to lead that legislative process.

Gillespie says the state’s bureaucrats have gotten in the way of K-12 innovation and, ultimately, school achievement.

Ralph Northam The Democrat running for Virginia would boost teacher pay and de-emphasize test scores.

He features on his website a four-point K-12 plan to improve the state’s school system: providing teachers more autonomy around lesson plans, cracking down on academically wayward schools, and dramatically expanding the school marketplace to include more charter and online schools.

“The proper role of government is not to guarantee equality of outcomes, but equality of opportunity,” he said on his website. “That means we have a moral duty to ensure all children have access to an excellent public school.”

Northam, the Democratic nominee, has plastered his campaign literature with the phrase “public school,” emphasizing that he’s a graduate of a public school, and that his wife is a former science teacher at a public school.

“Public schools have given so much to our family,” he says on his website. “I’ve been proud to fight for them as a state senator and lieutenant governor.”

He wants to expand the state’s accountability system so that it’s not so reliant on test scores and raise teacher pay (though he doesn’t describe how he’ll do it).

The teachers’ union in Virginia is backing Northam, deploying hundreds of teachers to knock on doors and staff phone banks.

New Jersey Showdown

Phil Murphy The Democratic nominee for governor of New Jersey proposes higher taxes on the wealthy to fuel the state’s school funding formula.

In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie has reached his limit of two terms, providing an audible sigh of relief to the state’s unionized teaching workforce, which has been at odds with him for years.

Shortly after being elected in 2009, Christie said in a video now gone viral that teachers’ unions deserved a “punch in the face.” He didn’t let up. As recently as last year, after ramping up the weight that test scores have on teacher evaluations, he referred to the teachers’ union as the state’s new “Mafia” before vetoing several education bills passed by the Democratically controlled legislature.

Now the stage is set for a new governor to shape policy in a state where Christie in his nearly eight years has cast a long shadow, having appointed six state superintendents.

Kim Guadagno The Republican nominee for New Jersey governor would limit the property tax that goes to fund schools.

School funding is among the prime issues to have received a lot of attention during the campaign as homeowners have pushed for a dramatic upending of how the state distributes money between wealthy and poor districts.

Funding Formulas

Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, a former business executive and diplomat, who so far is polling several points ahead of Republican candidate Kim Guadagno, says in his campaign literature that he wants to restore and fully fund the state’s controversial funding formula. He has suggested raising taxes on the state’s wealthy to provide $1 billion more to several of the state’s rapidly growing but underfunded school districts.

He also says he wants to get rid of PARCC as the state’s standardized test, and completely abolish state takeovers of districts.

On his website, Murphy says he “will put our educators ahead of the special interests ... and allow them to get back to doing what they do best: educate.”

Guadagno, New Jersey’s secretary of state and a former sheriff, wants to overhaul what she called an “antiquated” school funding formula.

She has proposed a formula that would bring in $1.5 billion and where homeowners wouldn’t have to pay more than 5 percent of their household income toward their property taxes that support schools. She would pay for the reduced tax by reforming government and health-care spending.

She also favors expanding school choice and merit pay for teachers.

“We must not rest on our laurels and instead put all available tools and resources together to improve our education system so our students can graduate with the needed skills to get a job, buy a home, and raise a family in New Jersey,” she said.

Election Day in New Jersey and Virginia is Nov. 7.

A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2017 edition of Education Week as K-12 an Issue in Governors’ Campaigns

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The Key to Better Learning: Indoor Air Quality
Learn about the importance of improved indoor air quality in schools, and how to pick the right solutions for educators, students, and staff.
Content provided by Delos

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal What the Federal 'Don't Say Gay' Bill Actually Says
The bill would restrict federal funds for lessons on LGBTQ identities. The outcome of this week's election could revive its prospects.
4 min read
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol on March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida House Republicans advanced a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in Tallahassee on March 7, 2022. Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law was a model for a federal bill introduced last month.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Federal Fed's Education Research Board Is Back. Here's Why That Matters
Defunct for years, the National Board for Education Sciences has new members and new priorities.
2 min read
Image of a conference table.
vasabii/iStock/Getty
Federal Opinion NAEP Needs to Be Kept at Arm’s Length From Politics
It’s in all our interests to ensure NAEP releases are buffered from political considerations and walled off from political appointees.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Feds Emphasize Legal Protections for Pregnant or Recently Pregnant Students, Employees
The U.S. Department of Education has released a new resource summary related to pregnancy discrimination in schools.
2 min read
Young girl checking her pregnancy test, sitting on beige couch at home.
iStock/Getty Images Plus