What Could State Election Results Mean for ESSA?

What State Election Results Might Mean for Music Education

In a recent blog post, we discussed potential ramifications of education policy as it relates to the 2016 federal elections. While it will remain important for music advocates to be plugged-in to the legislating and regulating that occurs on the federal level, much of the work in shaping educational policy, and funding for music education, remains at the state and local levels. So – let’s take a look at how state elections shaped up in 2016 and what this might mean for music education across the country.

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Photo: iStock/Multicolored USA map vector illustration


Republicans added to their historic 2014 gains in the nation’s state legislatures with the addition of five state House chambers and two state Senate chambers. Republicans are now in control of a record 67 (68 percent) of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the nation, more than twice the number (31) in which Democrats have a majority.

In 24 of the 32 states with Republican-controlled legislatures, voters have also elected Republican governors. In contrast, Democrats have a “political trifecta” in just six states.

13 states elect their chief state school officer. Of these, five states held elections this year. Of the three incumbents, only the Republican (Kristen Baesler of North Carolina) won re-election.   

Of the 12 states that had gubernatorial races, three gave governors the authority to appoint their chief state school officer. Of those three, Republicans now control gubernatorial seats in New Hampshire and Vermont, and Democrats continue to occupy the governor’s mansion in Delaware.

Of the 11 states that elect some or all of their state board of education members, 10 states held elections. There were 46 state board seats up for election and at least 23 of the elected state board members are new to their position.


As is typical with transfer of party power, it is unclear what the changes of power will mean for ESSA implementation at the state level. The US Department of Education released its final regulations on November 29th for the creation of state ESSA plans, including the requirements for state accountability systems under ESSA, at the end of November. NAfME provided input to these rules in draft form earlier this year. The regulations give states more time to build state level ESSA plans by changing the deadline from March and June 2016 to April and September 2016. This will give a little more time for new lawmakers, new state board of education members, new state department leadership, and members of the state executive to adjust to their role in working on state plans.   


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As new and returning state leaders get to work in January, however, the presidential election has left significant issues out of state level control. To begin with, states will need to take some cues from the Trump Administration as to their intentions with ESSA regulations that were written by the Obama Administration.  While a Trump Administration is expected to favor a more hands-off approach to accountability than the Obama administration, they have not indicated how they will move the final state accountability regulations released last month. The Trump administration could decide to hit the pause button on these regulations, delaying their implementation for years. They could issue guidance telling states that they won’t enforce parts of the regulations, or even go through the process of re-regulating, which could delay states’ planning. 

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled Congress could decide to use the Congressional Review Act to toss the just completed ESSA plan regulations entirely. This would bar the department under any administration from issuing similar regulations again until new legislation is passed. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander released a statement last week saying that he would have suggested such a route when the draft accountability regulations were released for comment in May because he felt the rules were not authorized by ESSA, and included provisions prohibited by ESSA. Alexander has said he will review the final regulations and make a recommendation. 

As the new administration and Congress reveal their intentions, we will provide updates. 


Tooshar Swain, Policy Advisor, Center for Advocacy, Policy, and Constituency Engagement, December 13, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)