Breaking Down the 2020 State Elections

Breaking Down the 2020 State Elections

The Impact of Elections on Education Policy

The 2020 elections are poised to have a potentially large impact on education in the states. Many states are electing officials this year who will have direct influence on the way education policy is debated and implemented in the states. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 5,876 regularly scheduled legislative elections this year in 44 states. Of the country’s 7,383 legislators, Republicans hold 52% of seats, and Democrats hold 47%. Currently, 45 state seats are vacant. It is worth mentioning that, of the 50 state legislatures, only Minnesota has a split legislature, with the Senate held by Republicans and the House by Democrats. All other state legislatures are under single-party control.

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The Democratic Party is carrying out an ambitious strategy to reverse the losses of the 2010 election, when the Republican Party came to a majority in state legislative control across the nation. Democrats hope to take control of either or both chambers in Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, states that we will look at more closely in a future article. Democrats have also targeted the Florida, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin Senates, as well as the Iowa and Michigan Houses, in an effort to loosen Republican grips on power in those states. The Republican Party has a slightly different set of states among its top ten priorities, reflected in its strategy to influence redistricting in the coming years. Its targets include New York, Ohio, and Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature.

Governors races favor the status quo this year. Eleven states, plus Puerto Rico and the American Samoa, have gubernatorial elections this November, and in ten of those states, party control is not expected to change. In Montana and Utah, the governorships are open, but according to the Cook Political Report, only Montana’s race is a toss-up. The current governor there is a Democrat and is term limited. These races are important because often governors will go on to choose top education officials.

In state education races, four states—Montana, North Dakota, Washington, and North Carolina—have chief state school officers’ elections this year. Of those four, North Carolina is the only state that does not have an incumbent. In Delaware, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Vermont, which all have gubernatorial races this year, the governor has the power to appoint the chief, so there is potential for new leadership for the department of education in those states. Four states–Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, and Nevada–will hold Board of Regents races, and nine states–Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Utah–and the District of Columbia will hold state board elections. In ten states, the governor has the authority to appoint state board of education members, which means there is potential for new state board members in Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

These races could determine states’ decision trajectory on issues ranging from education funding to school choice. For more information on how education policy is determined at the state and local level, review our Civic Action Field Guide.

Matt Barusch, State Advocacy Engagement Manager, October 26, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (