Education Is Key Issue in Several Midterm Races

Education Is Key Issue in Several Midterm Races
John Woike/Hartford Courant via AP
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Two weeks ago, voters in four states went to the polls in primaries during one of the most volatile environments in our nation’s history. The air waves are overflowing with talk of Russian influence and campaign collusion, while partisan bickering in Washington seems to drown out every call for compromise. Yet, against this backdrop, a state superintendent of education and former National Teacher of the Year have advanced in primaries for governor and Congress, respectively, positioning them to lead constructive conversations about an issue too frequently ignored on the campaign trail: education.

While education currently ranks 5th nationally in top policy concerns after issues like the economy, security, and healthcare, state-wide teacher strikes from West Virginia to Arizona have called attention to cuts in school spending, rallied public support, and even toppled Kentucky’s House Majority Leader in a stunning primary upset.

But maybe we shouldn’t be so stunned. Despite voters ranking education as a lower priority, as we saw this week, candidates who are focused on education — and supporting the high standards we need — are winning primaries. In California, 64 percent of voters say a candidate’s positions on K–12 issues are “very important,” and education has become a key issue in the Democratic primary. But this trend goes beyond just blue states. In Idaho’s race for governor, education policy and funding has been one of the biggest issues facing candidates on both sides of the aisle — particularly addressing how the state can expand career pathways to better prepare students for the workforce.

We shouldn’t be stunned. Education lies at the core of what voters really want — solutions for the issues that impact their day-to-day lives. In states and local communities across the country, voters can’t afford to focus on the noise coming out of Washington. They care about good jobs, safe communities and bright futures for their kids — great schools with high standards can help us achieve all three.

Of course, education isn’t just a winning midterm issue. It’s an opportunity for candidates to make a serious impact in their states and communities. Champions of education who win in 2018 will shape how their states implement their unique plans for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA gives states the flexibility to develop innovative education plans that are informed by local community members and can better support their students’ specific needs.

Thirty-six governors will take office next year, and it will be critical that they implement their states’ ESSA plans with fidelity by ensuring states administer high-quality assessments, enact ambitious yet realistic plans for school improvement, and support teachers with professional development and proper funding. The states that implement these high standards and invest in their schools, their teachers and their children will reap the rewards: In an increasingly global, skills-based job market, the states that out-educate today will out-compete tomorrow.

All politics — and all sound education policy — is local. Our national political mood may be fraught and divisive, but candidates running for state office should seize this opportunity to lead by offering an ambitious, pragmatic vision for strengthening our school systems.

The strongest candidates will present voters with innovative ideas and a commitment to ensuring all children receive an education that will prepare them for tomorrow’s economy.

Quite simply, when it comes to the future of their kids and the strength of their communities, voters don’t care about Republican ideas or Democratic ideas. They care about good ideas.

Jack Markell, a Democrat, served as the governor of Delaware from 2009 to 2017. He is a former chair of the National Governors Association and was a co-chair of the initiative that established the Common Core State Standards. He currently serves as an advisor to the Collaborative for Student Success.

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