What Democratic Victories in Virginia and New Jersey Mean for K-12 Policy

By Daarel Burnette II — November 08, 2017 2 min read
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Democratic victories in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races Tuesday will have reverberations in the debate over those states’ school accountability systems, the role of standardized tests, and the fate of their school spending formulas.

In Virginia, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam beat former Republican party chairman Ed Gillespie, while in New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, a financier and diplomat, beat the GOP nominee, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

In Virginia, school choice and the state’s accountability system both found their way into that state’s gubernatorial debates. Northam said he wanted to roll back the state’s role in improving schools and Gillespie said he wanted to crack down on underperforming schools and expand enrollment options for students at those schools. As governor, Northam will be able to appoint both an education secretary, who serves in an advisory capacity, and a state superintendent.

Northam could also make changes to the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan which is awaiting federal approval. He said repeatedly on the campaign trail that he thought the state was too reliant on test scores to rate its schools and that the state had too heavy of a hand on local school districts. But when pressed during a meeting with the Washington Post’s editorial board, he couldn’t detail exactly how he would change the state’s accountability system.

In New Jersey, Murphy will be tasked with repairing a fraught relationship between the state’s teachers’ union and the state’s department of education after the state’s appointed commissioners of education implemented several of outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial teacher quality measures (Christie appointed five commissioners in seven years). And a growing number of constituents have demanded that the state upend its decades-old school funding formula, which has led to increased property taxes. Murphy said he will seek to keep intact and fully fund the funding formula in the coming years.

Murphy also promised to pull the state out of the PARCC testing consortium and hand back control to several of the state’s urban districts. Kimberley Harrington, the current commissioner who designed the state’s federally-approved ESSA plan is appointed and will likely be replaced.

Among the down-ballot races in New Jersey, State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, managed to beat back fierce opposition from the state’s teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association. The union, which typically backs Democrats, spent at least $4 million on a campaign to defeat Sweeney, who has fallen out with the union over, among other things, how the state should pay down pension funds. The union instead supported Republican Fran Grenier, a city councilman who backed U.S. President Donald Trump in the presidential race.

Photos, from top: Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie gestures as he delivers a concession speech during an election party on Nov. 7 in Richmond, Va. Gillespie lost to Democrat Ralph Northam. Photo by Steve Helber/AP; New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy speaks to supporters during his election night victory party at the Asbury Park Convention Hall, on Nov. 7, in Asbury Park, N.J. (Cliff Owen for the Associated Press)

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