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The New Reality Roundup | Week 140

It is week 140 of our new reality and across the country analysts and advocates are trying to make sense of last week’s elections. “There was a tendency in DC to think of the midterms as one, big nationalized event, when in fact the foremost race in many voters’ minds was a governor’s race–from which down-ballot dynamics flowed,” observed Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

By focusing on what didn’t happen–the anticipated “red wave” of Republican victories in the US House and Senate races that never materialized–there is a risk that we miss what did happen: a “purple wave” of support for both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates who stood up for sensible, constructive policy change that put kids and families first in their states:

  • In Colorado, Democrat Jared Polis won reelection by 16 points after securing universal preschool and standing up for charter schools, school reopening and educational accountability.
  • In Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp–who was elected four years ago by a razor thin margin–won reelection by 8 points after a string of policy victories including a push to reopen schools early, a big expansion of tax credit scholarships and millions more in support for charter school facilities, which gave him the advantage on education in the race.
  • In Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont won reelection by 13 points after being one of the strongest voices in his party for reopening schools, signing into law the biggest increase in charter school funding in a generation and announcing the first RFP for new charter schools since 2017.
  • In Tennessee, Republican Bill Lee won reelection by a whopping 33 points after making education the centerpiece of his agenda: securing free summer camp for 200,000 kids, doubling facilities funding for charter schools and passing the most significant reform of the school funding formula in two decades. In his victory speech, he declared his intention to continue to make education his top priority.

The same pattern held true for new candidates, like Democrat Josh Shapiro who won his race for governor of Pennsylvania by 14 points in part by distinguishing himself with a full throated endorsement of school choice: “School choice and fully funded public education can coexist in Pennsylvania, so says the Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro. It’s a policy position that strays from his own party and aligns more closely with Republicans.”

Meanwhile, gubernatorial candidates playing cynical political games with education policy–like Beto O’Rourke, who’s closing argument in the Texas governor’s race was a call to end state testing–lost by double digits.

At a time when it felt like the loudest, most extreme voices had succeeded in taking over our politics, American voters stepped forward to make their more sane voices heard by putting constructive public servants back in charge in states across the country. “This week’s election results called into question the power of culture war education politics,” observe Laura Meckler and Anne Branigin in the Washington Post. Or as Tim Carney memorably put it in the Washington Examiner: “Nominating the craziest son of a b**** in the race is not a formula for winning governing majorities.”

Last week’s elections reinforced that good policy makes good politics and candidates in both parties that focused on constructive educational change thrived. Now, we must seize this opportunity to make sure that this purple wave turns into a wave of policy wins in the coming legislative sessions that will deliver the support and opportunities our kids need and deserve.

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