What’s at stake for higher ed in the midterms

Daily Briefing

What’s at stake for higher ed in the midterms

We’re in for an exciting election night, folks.

Thirty-six states will vote for a new governor. Ballot measures in 15 states stand to generate billions in education funding and weigh in on national policy issues. More than 1,000 current and former educators are running for office. Those include at least 156 candidates who have some connection to higher ed, by The Chronicle’s count. Hundreds of faculty members and other educators have signed a pledge saying that they will encourage their students to vote. The American Enterprise Institute is calling it the “most high-stakes midterm election in recent memory.”

Here are the key races for higher ed we’re watching today.

Gubernatorial races to watch

Wisconsin: Incumbent Scott Walker (R) faces a strong challenge from Tony Evers (D), the state’s superintendent of schools. In 2015, Walker signed a state budget that cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system. That same year, he also attempted to change the university system’s mission statement, which is written into state law, to remove references to “improve the human condition” and “search for truth” and replace them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.” Analysts say the race is close.

Illinois: Candidate J.B. Pritzker (D) has harshly criticized incumbent Bruce Rauner (R) for the two-year budget standoff in the state legislature that left colleges without normal state appropriations for more than a year. Pritzker says he wants to return higher ed funding to the level it was at before Rauner’s election. Rauner has championed collaboration between higher ed and local businesses, as well as increasing tax revenue by improving the state economy.

Oregon: Candidate Knute Buehler (R) says the state should do more to raise college-going rates, while incumbent Kate Brown (D) has touted her efforts to shift the state’s higher ed funding formula to one based on performance rather than enrollment.

Candidates running on free college platforms

At least 10 gubernatorial candidates have included free college proposals in their platforms, including Ben Jealous (Maryland), David Garcia (Arizona), and Ned Lamont (Connecticut). That’s in addition to several congressional candidates who are also campaigning on free college. And in Seattle, voters will decide whether to allocate property taxes to support a free college program.

Free college has become more popular among Democrats in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections, when candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) attracted a wave of support from young voters with his free college proposal.

Also see: What’s at stake for university research in the midterms

Ballot measures worth $2 billion

Across 15 states, 20 ballot measures could set precedent on national policy issues and generate a combined $2.6 billion for public education, including higher ed, according to the Center for American Progress. Relevant ballot measures include:

Alabama: A proposed amendment to the state constitution that would change the membership of the board of trustees at the University of Alabama.

Florida: A three-part ballot measure would provide death benefits to spouses of first responders and active-duty members of the military, raise the requirements for public universities to increase tuition, and preserve the governance structure of the Florida College System in the state constitution.

Maine: Two bond questions that would authorize $49 million and $15 million, respectively, to update facilities within the University of Maine system and the state’s community colleges.

Maryland: The measure would use revenue from video lotteries to support career and technical education and dual enrollment programs.

Massachusetts: A ballot measure would repeal a 2016 state law that allowed people to access bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

Montana: A statute would renew an existing tax on real estate and personal property to provide funding for the University of Montana system. The ballot measure is raised every 10 years, and the state has voted “Yes” every year since 1948.

New Jersey: A bond measure would allocate $500 million to vocational schools and career and technical education, among other projects.

New Mexico: A bond measure would allocate $136.23 million to support higher education, special schools, and tribal schools.

Rhode Island: A bond measure would allocate $70 million to higher education facilities.

The balance of power in Congress

If the Democrats gain more control in Congress, analysts predict they will use their influence in part to push back on policies proposed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has become a key figure in the midterms, even though she doesn’t appear on any ballots. Several Democratic congressional candidates have criticized their Republican opponents for their support of DeVos, including Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), who is running against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in Texas.

For example, if Democrats take over the House, their ranking member of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), is expected to be chosen as the chair of the committee. Because of Scott’s background as a civil rights lawyer, analysts predict he would push for stricter oversight of the Education Department. Democrats might hold more oversight hearings and could try to leverage their majority to pass policy changes.

We asked 100+ presidents about the state of higher ed. Here’s what they said

Sources: Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute, 10/30; Hess/Martin, American Enterprise Institute, 10/30; Yin, Center for American Progress, 10/12; Kamanetz/Nadworny, NPR, 10/27; Strauss, Washington Post, 10/4; Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, 9/26; Wermund et al., Politico, 10/23; Fernández Campbell, Vox, 10/31; Spicuzza/Marley, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 7/12/15; Johnson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/1; Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/5; Bauman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/5; Ujifusa, Education Week, 9/9.

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