Policy Matters Blog

The Impact of 2018 Midterm Elections on the Future of Education

The outcome of this year's midterm election has led to a significant change in the political landscape. In January, twenty states will have a new governor, to include Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. While control of the U.S. House of Representative has shifted, the U.S. Senate majority will remain the same but with some expansion.  A similar shift in control was evident in five state legislative chambers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Additionally, we are also likely to see turnover in a host of local school boards around the country. According to an Education Week analysis 177 current teachers ran for state legislative seats across the country this year. Of those teacher candidates, 42 won general elections on Tuesday. Given changes in political leadership, what major changes may we see in education policy, politics and funding?

While education was an important topic for gubernatorial candidates but not a top issue for many voters nationwide in November, the midterms elections may have important consequences for education. Listed below are a few key educational topics to keep an eye on in 2019 from federal, state, and local levels:  

Public Education & Teachers  

Since a number of state legislators with a background in education will take office very soon, it is clear that teachers do matter to voters. However, what remains to be understood is how much. Contradictions were evident in states where pro-education candidates were out voted. People seem to care about teachers, but it often did not transfer to voting action in support of important topics to them, such as teacher pay. Overall, there appears to be a lack of coherence about what voters want or expect from public education, according to Education Week and The George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development. With more educators in office, changes may be on the horizon with education spending.  

School Reform Efforts  

The focus of school reform has shifted, according to an analysis of candidate websites by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The change in tone on testing, accountability, charter schools, and teacher evaluation has narrowed in importance, according to AEI. Instead, STEM, career and technical education, and expanding early childhood education, social and emotional learning, school safety, and education funding are the focus for K-12 education at the state and local levels.        

Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA)  

One consequence of the midterm elections may include major changes in state Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans as federal guidance may be requested. Several amendments may be filed at the beginning of the new governor's terms that will allow states time to make revisions to their plan, and many may actually do so given the number of newly elected state officials and leaders. ESSA is up for reauthorization in 2019, but Congress is unlikely to take it up, due to a number of other high priorities, including the need for a major budget deal. In fact, one of the more damaging issues in the upcoming fiscal year could be a cut in federal education spending. If Congress does not reach a budget deal, sequestration cuts would automatically occur due to the Budget Control Act, which would result in a 55 billion dollar cut to federal education programs. Needless to say, the new divided-power Congress has their work cut out for them on this issue.  

Mental Health & School Safety  

Voters and candidates made it clear that health care was a pressing issue leading up to the midterm election. While mental health reform has made a lot of progress, the midterms presented another opportunity to continue the momentum by election of mental health champions into office. An advantage of this year's midterms was the ongoing efforts of nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations to raise policymakers' and candidates' awareness of mental health issues. More people than ever before are connecting their mental health to their overall health and well-being. Therefore, the debate during the campaign for many legislators shifted to preserving gains of the Affordable Care Act. The President and the new Congress will have an opportunity to continue advancing the mental health agenda to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people who suffer daily with mental health conditions.  

With recent incidents affecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe High School in Houston, Texas, the topic of school safety, as well as mental health, have been at the forefront of many minds and was just too important to ignore. While candidates varied in terms of support for or against gun control, many candidates backed by powerful gun lobby prevailed. Despite this outcome, we are likely to continue seeing increased financial investment in safety and security measures at schools in local education agencies across the nation.  

In conclusion, education was a key issue in gubernatorial races. Although voting in favor of pro-education candidates fell short, attention to education forced all candidates to compete on the issue. Educators ran for state legislative and federal congressional seats in historic numbers and saw victories in several states. Education priorities in Congress, both legislative as well as the oversight of the current administration's education agenda, will have a significant impact given the recent change in control of the U.S. House, according to the Center for American Progress. Therefore, school psychologists should continue advocacy activities through the holiday season in an effort to garner support for key legislative priorities identified by NASP or your state school psychology association.    

December is a great time to introduce yourself to new state and local politicians and leaders and share the role of school psychologists in your state and local community. Below is a list of suggested activities to engage and forge relationships with your state and local leaders during the holiday season and beyond:  

  1. Send a short holiday message by postcard, letter, email, or phone call to new and returning state and local leaders thanking them in advance for their dedication and support of children's mental health, school safety, or other key policy priorities identified by NASP or your state school psychology association.  Be sure to identify yourself as a school psychologist and provide a resource to assist in understanding the role of a school psychologist.  
  2. Find out if revisions are being made to your state's ESSA plan and request school psychologists be included with supporting resources about ESSA from the NASP website. Make it a movement and have your state association engage all school psychologists in your state.  There is power in numbers!  
  3. Get ahead of the crowd and schedule a time for a phone, Skype, or in-person conference with state and/or local leaders soon after they take office in January. Be sure to do your homework and find out any information about policies that are important to them. Plan to share your support of specific policies they already support or provide additional information about policies you want them to support. Consult the NASP website for resources and have a few colleagues join you. Don't forget to leave your business card and get the staffer's contact information so you can follow-up.  
  4. Follow state and local leaders on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Be sure to share the latest updates about the profession (e.g., NASP updates) and great stories about the amazing work school psychologists do daily.  
  5. Invite state and local leaders to an event sponsored by your state school psychology association or psychological services team or department. This can be a meeting, professional learning event, or any event that highlights school psychology and the important role school psychologists have as mental health service providers. Provide a certificate of appreciation or recognition if they are strong supporters of students' educational, social and emotional, behavioral and mental health needs if relevant. This provides them an opportunity to learn more about the profession and shows how much school psychologists appreciate their support.  


Additional Resources:  

2020 Vision: Education Policy and Politics Beyond the Midterms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lbe7I0O5W-o&feature=youtu.be  

School 'Reform' Loses Steam as Topline Issue: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/11/28/school-reform-loses-steam-as-a-topline.html