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What Do Would-Be Governors Have to Say About Education?

February 21, 2018
Frederick M. Hess and Sofia Gallo
Real Clear Policy

As seen from Washington over the past few years, the education debate has been dominated by school choice, K–12 accountability, college costs, and free speech on campus. But the real action on education tends to be in the states — which are constitutionally responsible for providing education and where roughly one-thirdof each year’s budget is typically devoted to funding K–12 and colleges. As the 2018 elections loom, with 36 gubernatorial contests getting underway, it’s worth looking at what would-be governors are talking about and how that relates to the Washington conversation.

So, during the first half of February, we used the National Governors Association website and Ballotpedia to identify the 269 declared gubernatorial candidates and then visited the websites for each. There were 121 candidates who had no website (a tiny handful) or who offered no information regarding their education positions. For the 148 candidates who had something to say on education — including 63 Republicans and 85 Democrats — we examined their sites to see what topics addressed and what they had to say….

Aside from school choice, there are a few other issues where a stark partisan divide is evident. Early childhood education is very popular with Democrats, 43 of whom mention it approvingly. But it is mentioned by just five Republicans. The same is true for school spending. Forty-four Democrats say that schools need more money; just 12 Republican candidates say something along those lines….

The same general phrases can be used to mean very different things. For instance, when they refer to “early education,” some governors are talking about programs serving children 0 to 3, while others are talking about universal pre-kindergarten. By “career and technical education,” some mean vocational schools while others mean apprenticeships; some are championing more high school programs while others are thinking about community college systems.