by Félix Pérez; feature image: Roy Cooper, Steve Bullock, Gary Herbert
Lost amid the stunning results of the presidential election were gubernatorial races whose winners will affect more directly the day-to-day lives of residents, including the level of support for students, families and public education. North Carolina, Montana and Utah are three such states.
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In North Carolina, voters closed the disastrous chapter of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory when they cast the majority of their ballots for Roy Cooper, the state attorney general. When he was a state legislator, Cooper, a Democrat, fought to raise teacher pay to the national average, reduce class sizes, and expand Smart Start, a private/public partnership to help students start school ready to learn. Cooper also wrote North Carolina’s first children’s health insurance initiative.
(McCrory, behind by more than 10,000 votes, conceded his re-election bid December 5.)
McCrory’s policies have been broadly criticized. Since 2013, the state has 35,000 more students but 4,900 fewer teachers. McCrory cut 3,000 teaching assistant positions in elementary schools and set aside $34.8 million to pay for private and religious school vouchers, raising the amount annually by $10 million through 2028. When adjusted for inflation, North Carolina spends less per student today than it did in 2007-08, when there were fewer students and fewer schools. The state ranks 43rd in per pupil funding.
Mark Jewell, Greensboro elementary school teacher and president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a statement regarding Cooper’s election:
This election showed that North Carolinians believe that investing in our public schools is a priority in this state,” said Mark Jewell, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators. Teachers stood strong for education and made a real difference during this election. We look forward to working with Governor-elect Cooper to move North Carolina forward.
In Montana, Steve Bullock secured a second term by defeating Greg Gianforte, a software entrepreneur and creationism supporter, 56.2 percent to 46.5 percent. Bullock has presided over the largest increase in public school funding in Montana history and worked with the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers, the union that represents public school educators and thousands of other public employees, to pass bills that amortized and saved the retirement plans of educators and public service employees.
Bullock, a Democrat, vetoed bills supported by the Koch brothers that would have diverted millions of taxpayer dollars from public school to unaccountable religious and for-profit private schools. Bullock is also credited with securing a freeze on college tuition and leading the push for state funding of voluntary early childhood education.
When MEA-MFT announced it was endorsing Bullock’s re-election, Eric Feaver, an English and social studies teacher, said, “Our . . . members unanimously agree that Steve Bullock has done an excellent job as governor and has earned another terms. Governor Bullock’s labor credentials are impeccable. He knows the middle class cannot survive without employees exercising the right to organize and bargain collectively. He believes so-called ‘right-to-work’ serves no useful purpose.”
Bullock also earned praise for appointing teacher Angela McLean as the state’s lieutenant governor. McLean is the first educator and only the second woman to serve in that position.
Over in Utah, Republican Gary Herbert won a third term, soundly defeated his opponent. On election night, Herbert said he will “make (education) the number one issue over the next four years.” He added, “We need to put a plan in place and go forward, so over the next five to 10 years, we can actually achieve the goal of being the best performing education system in America,”
The Utah Education Association, in explaining its endorsement of Herbert, said public education experienced “amazing successes at the Utah Legislature the past few years, thanks in part to the role Gov. Herbert played both in public and behind the scenes. For example, the budget process begins with the governor and over the past two years, Gov. Herbert has recommended substantial increases in public school funding. It is then up to the Legislature to set the budget through legislative action. Without the high bar set by our governor, we would likely not have received the increases we have these past years.”
UEA said Herbert met with its board of directors on “multiple occasions and has had an open-door policy with members of the UEA Legislative Team. He has sought our opinion on important issues and has had listened to our concerns.”
In other noteworthy gubernatorial races:
- In Oregon, Democrat Kate Brown won a two-year term. “I will fight to make sure that our schools open the doors of opportunity for all of our students,” she said in her acceptance speech Tuesday night. Endorsed by the Oregon Education Association, Brown, who won 51 percent of the votes, will finish what would have been the last two years of the governor who resigned last year. Brown’s victory represents the first time a state has elected an openly LGBT governor. In West Virginia, businessman Jim Justice won the state’s chief executive position with 49 percent of the vote. Endorsed by the West Virginia Education Association, Justice, said WVEA, “understands that we cannot continue to do less with more and that politics needs to be removed from education.” Justice opposes to charter schools.
- In West Virginia, businessman and Democrat Jim Justice won 49 percent of the vote. Endorsed by the West Virginia Education Association, Justice, said WVEA, “understands that we cannot continue to do less with more and that politics needs to be removed from education.” Justice opposes charter schools, wants education standards to be left up to educators, is critical of over-testing and will repeal the state’s right-to-work law.
- In Washington, Democrat Jay Inslee won a second term with 55 percent of the vote. He touted the reduction of tuition at public colleges and universities during his tenure and his role in raising the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour. Inslee was endorsed by the Washington Education Association.