Midterm Election Day Looms—Stakes High for Education

Election Day is Tuesday, November 4th—get out there and VOTE!! To help you continue to promote music education during this critical juncture, please visit the Music Education Policy Roundtable’s section of the NAfME website, and access our suite of NEW election season tools.

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As NAfME Policy Analyst Alexandra Eaton noted, while these midterms have been dubbed the “Campaign About Nothing” by the Washington Post, the stakes have, perhaps, never been higher for education. As we know all too well in the music education community, in recent years, education policy has languished, largely as the result of partisan bickering and poor issue prioritization by a much maligned Congress. After these elections, however, that dynamic could change (for better or for worse!), as twelve Senatorial seats are considered competitive this year, and are providing Republicans with a solid opportunity to take back control of the Senate and unite the chambers.

Under such a scenario, HELP Committee Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (TN) would almost certainly transition in to the more powerful role of Chair, positioning him to work with the House’s Republican Chairman Kline (MN-2), or whoever takes his place in the new Congress. Not only are Republicans likely to move into chairing roles in both chambers, but current Democratic Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) and House Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (CA-11), are retiring. Those two progressive Democrats have played leadership roles on both education committees for a combined 18 years, and their departures will be resoundingly felt.

Should the Democrats somehow manage to hold on to the Senate, veteran Senator Patty Murray (WA) is the most likely candidate to replace Harkin. Murray, a former preschool teacher with a strong focus on early childhood education, could be a strong champion for music education. The House’s committee leadership in both parties, remains more uncertain, moving forward.

***3 House Races to Watch***

New York, First District:
Embattled Democrat Tim Bishop of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and his opponent, Representative Lee Zeldin, are caught up in a neck and neck race that has already brought in a total of $8.7 million dollars in outside spending. Both candidates strongly reflect their parties’ official platforms, with Zeldin calling for a reduction in federal spending and regulation in education, while Bishop has pushed for increased funding, including of historically Black and Hispanic serving institutions.

Iowa, Second District:
Iowa Representative Dave Loebsack, another Education and the Workforce member, is in a hotly contested race against Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who is on her third try to unseat him. Miller-Meeks has not fleshed out her education platform much beyond restoring more local control, while Loebsack has a clear record supporting federal funding for failing schools, including sponsoring bills to increase educational access to underserved students.

North Carolina, Second District:
Republican Renee L. Ellmers and her opposition to federal education programs will likely win out on Election Day, but with former special education teacher and American Idol runner up Clay Aiken hanging tough as her challenger, this remains a fascinating race to watch. In a midterm election where voter turnout is likely to be tremendously low, Aiken’s celebrity factor may help pull in more supporters.

***3 Senate Races to Watch***

North Carolina
Democrat Kay Hagan, a member of the HELP Committee, has argued for reducing class sizes and increasing teacher pay, while altering the No Child Left Behind act for more local control over evaluation. However, as a freshman Senator, the lack of education bills being voted on has largely left her views on the issue undefined. Her challenger, Thom Tillis, has posited that he is a stronger supporter of education, and cites yearly state increases in funding, though he has been criticized for providing roughly $481 million less than was recommended.

New Hampshire
A former high school teacher, Jeanne Shaheen, who serves on the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, is locked in a dead heat with Scott Brown, the Republican who earlier challenged Elizabeth Warren for a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and lost. She has mostly sided with other moderate Democrats in offering support for federal education programs, and has endorsed Common Core, which Brown opposes.

Mary Landrieu, much like Senator Shaheen, is a moderate Democrat working in the Education Funding Subcommittee, and finds herself in one of the closest races on the map against Republican candidate Bill Cassidy. Both argue for voluntary school prayer, though Bill Cassidy has pushed for school vouchers for religious schools, and sponsored a bill mandating critiques of evolution and climate change, to be included in science classes. Landrieu has strongly supported Common Core and evaluation reform, and has also touted funding for 21st Century afterschool programs, which Cassidy says he would vote against.

For information on additional races, including hot gubernatorial contests, please see Education Week’s Education and the 2014 Election: A Guide to Key Races.

Happy Election Day—and, this November, support music education at the polls!!

Christopher Woodside, Assistant Executive Director, Center for Advocacy and Constituency Engagement, November 4th, 2014. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)