How the 2020 State Elections Could Shape Education Systems

See our infographic for a full breakdown of this year's races.

With national attention on the presidential race this election year, it can be easy to forget the important leadership positions and ballot measures that voters will be deciding on this November. The impact these races can have on states’ education systems is not something to be skipped, so we’re tracking these races closely to keep you informed.

Gubernatorial Races

Eleven states plus Puerto Rico and American Samoa have gubernatorial elections this year. They are: Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Two states are guaranteed to have new governors: Montana, as current Gov. Steve Bullock is term-limited; and Utah, as current Gov. Gary Herbert is not seeking re-election.

State Education Chiefs

Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Washington are holding races for state education chiefs. North Carolina is guaranteed a new chief because the incumbent is not running, while Montana, North Dakota and Washington have incumbent candidates running for reelection.

In Delaware, Indiana, New Hampshire and Vermont, the governor has the power to appoint the chief, so there is potential for new leadership.

State Higher Education Officers

All state higher education officers are appointed either by the governor or by the higher education governing board. Washington may have a new SHEEO since the governor has the authority to appoint one and is holding a gubernatorial election.

Board of Regents

Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska and Nevada will hold board of regents elections this year.

State Board of Education Members

The following states will hold state board elections: Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas and Utah, plus the District of Columbia. In 10 states, the governor has the authority to appoint state board of education members, which means there is potential for new state board members in Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

State Legislatures

This year, 86 chambers in 44 states will hold elections for legislative seats. Minnesota is currently the only state with split partisan control, so we will be watching to see if partisan control flips in any of the states holding elections.

Upcoming Ballot Measures

Several states will be voting on ballot measures related to public education, including K-12 schools and higher education institutions. In California, Proposition 16 would amend the constitution to repeal the provisions related to discrimination against and preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public education. Washington’s Referendum 90 would require school districts to develop a comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual health education. The sex education requirements would be consistent with state standards and excuse students upon their parent’s request.

Two states will vote on measures regarding higher education governance. Nevada’s Question 1 would amend the state constitution by removing the constitutional status of the board of regents to allow the state Legislature to review and change the governing organization of state universities. In addition, the measure would revise federal land grant proceeds dedicated for the benefit of certain state university departments. North Dakota’s Constitutional Measure No. 1 would increase the state board of education membership from eight to 15 and increase term membership from four to six years.

Most 2020 education ballot measures concern funding revenue streams. Arizona’s Proposition 208 would increase public education by imposing a 3.5% surcharge on taxable annual income over $250,000 for single people or $500,000 for joint filings. In California, Proposition 15 would increase K-12 and community college funding by requiring commercial and industrial real estate property to be taxed based on current market value. The estimated $7.5 billion revenue increase would include a 40% allocation to schools.

In Colorado, Proposition EE would impose a tax on nicotine products, and the revenue would support public school funding losses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Colorado preschool program. Colorado will also vote on Amendment B, which would repeal property tax assessment rates in the constitution and allow the Colorado General Assembly to periodically change the residential assessment rate. In Colorado, property taxes help fund K-12 education.

Be sure to check out our interactive infographic on this year's election and look out for another blog post on the Election Day results.

Author profile

Lauren Freemire

Lauren Freemire

State Relations Strategist at Education Commission of the States |

Lauren supports the state relations team in cultivating relationships and building partnerships with all Education Commission of the States Commissioners. She is the liaison for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Lauren worked on public policy and government relations with Save the Children Action Network in Colorado, Clayton Early Learning, National Conference of State Legislatures and with several members of the legislative and executive branches in Colorado. Lauren is dedicated to helping policymakers across the states connect and collaborate to improve education systems for all students.

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