Education a Key Issue in Some State Elections

Last Updated: October 29, 2014

This article appeared in the October 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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There will be fewer education-related initiatives on state ballots next month than there have been in recent years, but that doesn’t mean education isn’t a key issue in many races.

In fact, education may play a key role in gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Florida, two states that have seen severe budget cuts and wrangling over testing, teacher evaluations and tenure, Common Core, charters, and other issues.

In Georgia, the major issue comes down to funding for schools with incumbent Republican Governor Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter both claiming to be the bigger supporter of public education. Carter has promised to raise funding significantly but has not said where the money will come from. Deal has claimed he will raise funding but says more money isn’t the entire answer.

Budget cuts have been so severe in Georgia that the legislature suspended enforcement of its requirement of a 180-day school year. Nearly three-quarters of the state’s districts have cut the school year shorter to save money. More than 90% of districts have increased class sizes, and more than three-quarters have furloughed teachers. The state is spending some $500 less per student than it did in 2008.

In Florida, former Republican Governor, turned Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist and incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott are also locked in tight battle with education playing a key role.

Both say they will increase funding for K–12 education. Crist supports the Common Core, but has suggested concerns about testing. Scott says he supports Florida’s own standards. As governor, Crist vetoed a bill that tied half of teacher evaluations to student test scores and how teachers are paid. Scott signed the same legislation as soon as he took office. Scott supports vouchers for private schools; Crist opposes vouchers.

Governor's races in both states are considered too close to call.

Similar issues are playing out in other states as well, especially those where school funding was cut drastically during the recession. In addition, several states have seen significant pushback against efforts to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations and pay.

In states with elections for chief state school officers, most candidates in both parties say they support increased funding for K–12 schools and would scale back testing.

Democratic candidates are somewhat more likely to support the Common Core, with candidates in Arizona, Georgia, and Wyoming generally supporting it, although all three say they would like to scale back the emphasis on testing. In Idaho, the Republican candidate supports the Common Core.

Read more:

Georgia governor’s race:

Florida governor’s race

Transcript of the Florida gubernatorial debate:

Education news:

Read more from the October 2014
Rural Policy Matters.