Election 2020 Recap

With election season wrapping up, NAfME members across the country are considering what the results mean for education. Democrats won the Presidency and the U.S. House of Representatives while control of the U.S. Senate will be determined by two runoff races in Georgia. Much of the status quo was maintained at the state level, with neither party making substantial gains on where majority control currently lies. State legislature results are particularly significant this year. In addition to determining state budgets, which on average provide 47% of all education funding, many of these bodies will drive the redistricting process that determines congressional representation and federal funding for the next decade. All this, plus some education ballot initiatives, is covered below.

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The New Administration’s Education Priorities

As a candidate, Joe Biden proposed substantial increases in federal education spending. Biden pledged to increase funding for Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), both of which are priority funding streams in NAfME’s legislative agenda. His proposal would triple Title I funding to $45 billion and require that schools prioritize teacher salaries, expansion of early childhood programs, and other “critical investments.” This would require new legislation and it is unclear how the funds might be used to support music education. Increasing IDEA funding would take place through the normal appropriations process, as Congress originally authorized itself to cover 40% of special education costs and currently only covers about 15%.

The President-Elect will seek to make two-year community college debt-free for students, a goal he sought as Vice President, while also pursuing universal pre-kindergarten for three and four-year-old children. Biden supports doubling the Pell Grant maximum award grant value and canceling at least $10,000 of loan debt for existing borrowers in response to the current recession.

Education Leadership in the New U.S. Congress

How ambitious the White House can be on these proposals hinges on the two Senate runoff races in Georgia. If Republicans win either of those races, they will retain control of the upper chamber and its committees. This would mean Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) continuing to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee while leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee would transfer to a senior Republican following Chairman Alexander’s retirement in January 2021. In recent years, Republicans have voiced concern about federal spending and skepticism over the federal government’s involvement in education funding and policy. If Democrats win both Senate races in Georgia, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would take over the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) would chair the Senate HELP Committee. Congressional Democrats are typically more supportive of increased federal spending and involvement in education than Republicans.

With the Democrats preserving their majority in the House of Representatives, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) is expected to continue leading the House Education and Labor Committee. House Democrats are set to vote on a new Appropriations Committee Chair to replace retiring member Nita Lowey; Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), who currently chairs the Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, seems to be the favorite in the race.

Outcomes for State Races, including Legislatures, Executives and Ballot Initiatives

In contrast with the presidential and congressional elections, state legislature elections were stable this year. In fact, out of 99 legislative chambers in 50 states, only two chambers have switched party control. Both chambers in the New Hampshire General Court, the House of Representatives and the Senate, switched from Democratic to Republican control. With one of the largest state legislative bodies in the country (The NH House of Representatives has 400 members to the Senate’s 24 members), change of partisan control in the New Hampshire General Court is not unusual. Republicans now control 61 state legislative chambers to Democrats’ 37 state legislative chambers, which will have implications for redistricting and education policy.

As  mentioned in our pre-election post, 11 states held gubernatorial elections, four states each held chief state school officer and board of regents elections, and nine states plus the District of Columbia held state board races. In the nine states where incumbent Governors ran (six Republicans and three Democrats), they were all re-elected. Montana and Utah both elected new Governors; of those races, the Montana Governorship changed from Democratic to Republican, with Greg Gianforte (R) winning the election to replace term-limited Governor Steve Bullock (D). The Governor’s races are consequential due to the authority various states grant the Governor to appoint state education officials. The potential effects of the Montana Governor’s race on education may be felt in the state board of education, where the new Governor has the authority to appoint members.

Regarding state education official elections, in the four states (MT, ND, WA, NC) that held chief state school officer races, incumbents won in all states but North Carolina.  Of the four states that held board of regents races (CO, NE, MI, NV) most notable is the Colorado board election, where Democrats took control after decades of Republican control. As of this writing, state board races in Nevada, Utah, and Kansas have not yet been called.

Several education ballot initiatives were also voted on in this year’s election, primarily regarding education funding. Most notably is Arizona’s Proposition 208, which was approved by voters and levies a 3.5% tax surcharge on taxable income over $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples. This funding is meant to go directly to teachers’ salaries. Voters in Colorado approved two measures that impact school funding, including raising taxes on nicotine products. Meanwhile, California voters rejected a measure increasing property taxes to fund schools.

We are still learning about some results and their implications for education. NAfME will go further in-depth in our upcoming webinar, Music Education Post-Election: Updates and Key Takeaways, taking place December 2 at 7:00 EST. Register here to attend our discussion on ballot initiatives, election results, and how the forthcoming Biden administration plans to address school reopening, funding, and education priorities.

NAfME Public Policy Staff, November 16, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)