Election 2019’s Impact on State Education Policy

Hannah Leedle and Thomas Rodgers

This week, Kentucky and Mississippi held elections for the highest office in the state, and voters in Louisiana will head to the polls next Saturday (11/16). Below, we take a look at the impact the results in Kentucky and Mississippi might have on the education policy landscape in each state, and offer a preview of the upcoming  election in Louisiana. 

Kentucky

Democrat Andy Beshear is claiming victory in the Kentucky gubernatorial election. Beshear, the current state attorney general, is currently leading incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R) by approximately 5,000 votes. Bevin is refusing to concede the race and has requested a recanvass, saying the race is too close to call. 

Education was a key issue in this election, given Gov. Bevin’s ongoing battle with the teachers union over pensions and charter schools. Bevin attracted criticism during the 2018 walkouts and strikes, in particular, referring to teacher behavior as “thuggish.” Assuming that Beshear maintains his lead, there is little doubt that he will approach education differently. 

Notably, state board of education dynamics will likely shift slightly under Beshear’s leadership. He will have the opportunity to appoint four members to the Board in 2020. The board is comprised of 11 members (all appointed by the governor), however, so it will remain a Bevin-appointed majority until 2022.

Mississippi

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves beat Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood in the race to succeed term limited Republican Gov. Phil Bryant. Both candidates made raising salaries for teachers a top priority; along with addressing the problem of brain drain from the state. 

It is unlikely that Reeves’ approach to education will vary significantly from Bryant’s, and the state board of education will remain a mix of appointees — five members appointed by the governor, two at-large members appointed by the lieutenant governor, and two at-large members selected by the speaker of the house of representatives. 

Louisiana

Voters in Louisiana will head to the polls on November 16 to cast their ballots for governor.. Democratic incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, first elected in 2015, is seeking a second term. He will face Republican challenger Eddie Rispone on November 16. Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South and the only Democrat holding statewide office in Louisiana. Recent polls show Edwards with a slim lead over Rispone. 

Louisianians will also vote on the 16th to fill one open seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). BESE is comprised of 11 members — eight members are elected from individual districts and three are appointed by the governor. Seven of the eight elected positions were decided in the October 11 primary election. All of the candidates elected in the primary election were backed by the state business lobby that, historically, has been supportive of John White, the state superintendent of education. White, who has served in the role since 2012, has been on a month-to-month contract since January 2016 because BESE has been unable to agree on an extension (which requires eight votes). Depending on the outcome of the remaining BESE election, White could have enough votes for an extension regardless of who wins the gubernatorial election.