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Ask educators in Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Kansas or Arizona if a governor matters, and you’ll get an earful about the relentless attacks on educators and public education. In addition to approving and vetoing legislation, governors determine budget priorities, appoint state education officials, and set policies, regulations and programs.
There will be 36 gubernatorial elections in 2018, with educators, parents and, in some cases, students expected to play a key role in many. Here are Ed Votes’ top five gubernatorial races to watch (others will be added as the electoral landscape clears).
- Incumbent Republican Governor Doug Ducey, an acolyte of the Koch Brothers and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is seeking a second term—despite his less than stellar education record.
- During his first term, Ducey expanded vouchers, which drain money away from public schools attended by 97 percent of Arizona’s students.
- Per pupil spending in Arizona under Ducey is about $750 less than it was 10 years ago.
- On the Democratic side, the field of candidates consists of three people: David García, who launched an unsuccessful bid to become state school superintendent in 2014, Southern Arizona YWCA CEO Kelly Fryer, and state Senator Steve Farley.
- Arizona’s Democratic Primary takes place in August.
- The 135,000-member Illinois Education Association this month recommended Pritzker for the Democrat primary for governor. “It was Pritzker’s strong commitment to funding K-12 education, his promise to invest in higher education, his pledge to protect collective bargaining rights and his willingness to enact a progressive income tax that matched our goals for public education in Illinois,” said educator and IEA President Kathi Griffin.
- Pritzker and his wife M.K. are funding a research-based policy initiative to “promote high quality early learning and development.” The early childhood education initiative is partnering with several national organizations that have strong community ties to enhance local support for children from birth to age three and their families. The Pritzkers put up $6.5 million to support a one-year pilot.
- As an extension of his 20 years advocating for access to high-quality early education, Pritzker has proposed a comprehensive birth-to-five educational system so every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.
- This month, Rauner, dubbed the “worst Republican governor in America” by a conservative magazine, vetoed another education funding bill, demanding that more private schools be given access to public money in the form of education tax credits, or vouchers. The veto, according to the state Board of Education, will cause “further disruption and confusion for all 852 school districts.”
- The first-term incumbent pushed the state into a two-year budget impasse, during which more than $1 billion was not paid out to school districts. Public colleges and universities statewide announced layoffs, social service agencies shut down, construction projects stalled, and businesses were owed billions for goods and services provided to the state.
- While working as a private equity executive before becoming governor, Rauner told some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most influential civic leaders that half of Chicago Public Schools’ teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent.”
- The Michigan Education Association is backing former state Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer for governor. Whitmer is “committed to listening to front-line experts in classrooms across the state before moving forward with changes that will affect us and our students,” said Paula Herbart, music teacher and president of the Michigan Education Association.
- Whitmer strongly opposes Betsy DeVos’s agenda, despite being bullied by a powerful DeVos front group. Whitmer has seen first hand how the DeVos family has attacked public education in Michigan, and has pledged to stand her ground and re-invest in the state’s public schools.
- Whitmer’s top education policy concerns are the insufficient funding of public schools, college affordability, and the pervasive lack of respect for educators among lawmakers in Lansing.
- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is considered the front-runner among the Republican candidates for governor.
- Schuette strongly supported Betsy DeVos’s appointment as Secretary of Education and embraces the DeVos agenda. The DeVos family and DeVos organizations contributed at least $136,000 to Schuette’s campaigns between 2009-2014.
- Schuette has the backing of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Like Walker, Schuette promotes the misguided theory that lowering tax rates for the wealthy will bring economic growth for the state. But any reduction to revenues in Michigan, on top of the $800 million in mostly corporate tax cuts established by current Gov. Snyder, would cause a massive structural deficit in the state, according to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.
- Giunchigliani is a Clark County commissioner, eight-term state legislator, former president of the Nevada State Education Association and special education teacher.
- In her 16 years in the Nevada State Assembly, Giunchigliani was a relentless advocate for public education, leading the effort to pass mandatory kindergarten and founding the Teachers Health Trust. She worked to end the state’s voucher program (Education Savings Accounts) and joined the lawsuit against ESAs .
- The 24,0,000-member NSEA recently endorsed Giunchigliani for governor. NSEA President Ruben Murillo stated, “There has never been a candidate for governor with a such a lifetime commitment to public schools and a quality public education for every Nevada student.”
- Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission, served for 10 years on the Nevada Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s higher education system of eight colleges and universities.
- He is best known for spearheading the effort to build a professional football stadium in Las Vegas. The effort was criticized by some public education advocates as a giveaway of public funds that could be used for education.
- He opposes diverting public school funds into private schools, and he supports raising teacher salaries and lowering classroom sizes.
- Nevada state’s attorney general, Laxalt, a rising star in national conservative circles, wants to use public school funds to expand the state’s income-based private school vouchers, which divert funding from public schools. He also wants more publicly funded charter schools.
- “I am a supporter of Education Savings Accounts as part of my broad commitment to creating more school choice in Nevada. I am proud of the work my office did defending ESAs all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court,” said Laxalt in an interview.
Gov. Tom Wolf
- Gov. Wolf has vastly improved the state’s policies and practices around standardized testing. Starting next school year, time devoted to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) will be reduced from three weeks to two weeks and shifted to later in the school year to give students up to two additional weeks to learn before taking the assessment. The announcement follows the Wolf administration’s earlier decision to reduce the length of the PSSA by an average of 20 percent in grades three through eight.
- Delivering on one of his major campaign promises, Gov. Wolf has nearly reversed the devastating $1 billion cut in public school funding lawmakers approved in 2011. “Gov. Wolf committed himself to public education funding when he campaigned for governor, and he has kept that promise in every state budget since he’s been in office,’’ said educator and PSEA Vice President Dolores McCracken. “There is still plenty of work ahead, but this puts a dark chapter behind us.’’
- Pennsylvania is the only state that does not tax the billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas that drillers extract in the state every year. Gov. Wolf is close to making the oil and natural gas drillers pay their fair share for the first time ever, and will use the revenue to balance the state budget while investing more in schools.
- An early favorite for the Republican nomination for governor, state Sen. Scott Wagner is one of the most strident critics of public schools.
- Wagner supports bringing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s education agenda to Pennsylvania with a statewide voucher plan.
- Wagner wants to eliminate benefits that educators earn, including sick days. He plans to end pensions for working educators and wants retired educators to give back 10% of the retirement they earned.