Ep. 351: Monthly State Update – Election Results

December 7, 2022

In this monthly state update, we check in with the Policy and Advocacy team as they tell us the results from the recent gubernatorial elections that went in in many states across the country.

Joey Magana: All right. Well, thanks everybody for joining us for the State Update podcast. We’ve come off of a pretty big election cycle, very mixed bag for school choice. I’ve got my team here to kind of go through their states and talk about some of the interesting things that have happened. Caitlin, who kind of covers Southwest West. What do you got for us? What’s interesting out there after the election?

Caitlin Lee: I would say most excitingly, we had a really good election cycle in Oklahoma. Governor Stitt won his reelection. Our Secretary of Education, Ryan Walters won State Superintendent. So we have two very pro school choice candidates in major statewide offices in Oklahoma. In Arkansas Sarah Huckabee Sanders won governor, and she’s very favorable for school choice as well. So that’s two close states for us here.

Joey Magana: All three of those people ran on school choice, right?

Caitlin Lee: Yes, they did, school choice platforms. So probably the most shocking election or biggest flip I would say would be in Nevada turns that seat. Joe Lombardo won, beat an incumbent and he’s been pretty outspoken for school choice. So we’ll see what they do with that. But he’s pro school choice and the incumbent was not. So we’ll see what happens there and was the most shocking.

Arizona’s election was really, really tight. The candidate that ended up winning the governor’s race is not for school choice. So that will make things interesting in the legislature. It’ll be about defending school choice this year. The Secretary of State kind of held out on that ballot initiative and didn’t want to call it. She’s not been favorable and she’s very outspoken about not being in favor of the universal ESA program there, so we’ll be on defense in Arizona this year.

Wyoming elected 27 new members to their House of Representatives out of 60. So we’ll see kind of how they all turn out when it comes to this upcoming session. There’s an appetite there for passing something when it comes to a choice program and they have a new majority floor leader that is very excited about working with us. So that’s kind of the big stuff in my states this year so.

Joey Magana: Let’s not leave out the Lone Star State. What’s happening down there?

Caitlin Lee: Yeah, I mean they’re definitely working on something. Their lieutenant governor has been very excited to work on something. Their governor has been more outspoken this year than he has in the past. He’s kind of gone back and forth on it a little bit, but we expect maybe this year, but I think we’ve been saying that for several years. So we’ll see if it’s really this year.

Joey Magana: Very true. Our fearless leader, Robert Enlow, has always had high hopes for a Lone Star State and it’s always let him down. But maybe next year is the year. Who knows? We’ll see.

Caitlin Lee: Abbott did hold several rallies this year at charter schools and private schools. So that may speak towards him being a little bit more favorable and a little bit more ready to step out and lead the way. The fact that his lieutenant governor who does have a little bit more sway in the legislature in Texas than the governor does, could also speak to Texas finally being ready to do something.

Joey Magana: Maybe the Sooners state will lead the way for him. Who knows?

Caitlin Lee: We’re ready to pit those football rivalries and the legislative school choice rivalries against each other.

Joey Magana: Yes, for sure. All right, thanks Caitlin. Appreciate that.

Speaking of a state in the West, Jordan, you have kind of Idaho as a lone state out there. Any surprises from that election?

Jordan Zakery: Nothing too crazy in terms of surprises. They maintained a Republican super majority in their house. They’re at 59 to 11. Their Senate remained pretty similar at 28 to 7, and they still have Governor Little.

Now, in terms of school choice, Idaho is a pretty tricky state. I think it’s one of those states where really there needs to be a lot of education around the issue for both caucuses. Typically, and obviously while this is a non-political issue and it’s an issue that should cut across the aisle to both Democrats, Republicans, you tend to see lately in a lot of states that the Republican caucuses have picked up school choice as an issue, but you haven’t really seen that as much in Idaho. Still we have some great champions who are remaining in the legislature in Idaho and who won their races. So beyond that, be on the look for a couple different ESA bills. That’s definitely a possibility this year.

We don’t have committee assignments yet, and both in the House and Senate where an ESA bill could go, ultimately is going to depend on who our education chairs will be. But we do have some great candidates.

Also, we have a couple other states I really do want to talk about and one of them that also starts with an I is Iowa. Heartland, the good old Midwest where a lot of the EdChoice staff resides. Iowa has a champion in Governor Reynolds who’s been reelected and the elections went really well for Iowa in both the House and the Senate. So currently there is 64 Republican, 36 Democrats split in Iowa. But what does that really mean for school choice and a proposal? Well, talking to a lot of our applicants, a lot of our partners, we believe that there’s about 53 “yes” votes for a school choice piece of legislation that would be an ESA.

For our listeners, every year the governor for the last few years has put out her rendition of an ESA in her governor’s education bill. We’ll see that again this year. So people are really excited to see that 53 potential vote count because the Senate is really strong on school choice and we have wonderful advocates there. And I want to give a shout-out to some of our friends, Brad Zaun and Amy Sinclair, both wonderful senators who have advocated for the issue. Senator Sinclair was recently elected senate president. So that’s huge news.

So the Senate has remained strong. The governor is just a workhorse champion for educational choice. And then to finally start seeing more legislators come across who are choice supportive in house is big. And I have to give a shout-out to our EdChoice team on that a little bit. We can’t really take that much credit, but we can take a little bit of credit in that we’ve really tried hard to get Iowa legislators to our national legislator trainings and train them up on the issue.

And then one last thing of note is that the former education chairman in the house, Chairman Hite, who is not always the most friendliest choice, he ended up losing his primary. Now we don’t know for sure who will be the education chair in Iowa, but there’s a really high chance that it could be a choice supporter. I can’t really share what I know, but I am hoping that a choice supporter will soon be in the chair of the Education Committee. And if that happens, we’ll be in a really, really good place. Hopefully that means students around Iowa are going to have more options by the end of this legislative session.

Joey Magana: The stars will align, so to speak.

Jordan Zakery: It’s looking like it.

Joey Magana: So I think we’d be remiss. Absolutely mentioned the governor, but she really kind of stuck her neck out for the primaries, right?

Jordan Zakery: Yeah. It’s very, very rare in Iowa that you see a governor going and getting involved in legislative races. She was out there showing out. She was with a lot of our partners, some of our partners on the ground at AFP, Iowa ACE, and out there with candidates and really, really making school choice a big issue in this state. And that’s awesome ’cause that’s why we all, we burn the midnight oil, we work hard because we want students to have choice. And seeing a leader like Governor Reynolds do that has been A) very heartening, and then B) it’s great to see that she’s taking that leadership and really bestowing it upon others who are elected officials in the states and pointing them in the direction of educational choice.

Joey Magana: Yeah, it really shows kind of her heart and passion on the issue that she would take the risk, like you said, to get involved in primaries of her same party and stick her neck out there specifically on school choice. That just shows that she really cares and really thinks that it’s going to make a difference, as we all know. So yeah, that was great update in Iowa. What else you got for us?

Jordan Zakery: Yeah. So the last major update I want to share with y’all, and it can’t all be great, but we’re still hopeful, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you a little bit of an update out of the Granite State, New Hampshire, which is an amazing state for educational choice. I mean, they passed the Education Freedom Accounts not too long ago that we’ve already seen over 3000 students take advantage of. They’ve also had a tax credit scholarship for a long time and they even have a town tuitioning voucher. So they have choice across the books there, but the advocates there on the ground have been working hard and our partners.

I know we’ve really been looking forward to the selection because the EFA program right now, only 31% of students in the state are eligible. And the EFA stands for Education Freedom Accounts. We are hoping to see that number expand. We are hoping that more students could access choice. And that doesn’t mean they can’t. But right now, the election, we had a little bit of a stumbling block in the house, unfortunately. And currently the house sits at 200 Republicans, 199 Democrats and one tie vote.

Now we have to parse deeper into what that really, really means for a choice proposal. But it is going to be difficult on a standalone bill to get those votes, but not impossible. We have a lot of really savvy and strong advocates there. We have support from the Senate, we have support of Governor Sununu, who has also been a wonderful school choice champion over the years. Education Freedom Accounts don’t happen in the past without Governor Sununu’s support. The Department of Education in New Hampshire, they’ve really stood up and stuck out for offering students options and choice.

So we do have that. We do have this obstacle with the house selections, but I know there’s a lot of very motivated people out there who want to try to expand choice this year. We still might have that possibility despite a little bit of a stumble or a hurdle we’ll have to jump over.

Joey Magana: Yeah. Well, and I will say, I mean here at EdChoice, we’re nonpartisan. So we’re always optimistic and hopeful that folks on both sides of the political aisle will see the light of school choice and how it helps families and kids. And so maybe in a state like New Hampshire where it’s so closely tied, I mean it could be 200 to 200 it sounds like, hopefully some of those folks on either side will see the benefits of school choice and how it’s already been helping kids in New Hampshire.

Jordan Zakery: Yeah, I think you’re completely right. And this issue, and as you said, this issue should not be a partisan issue, should be something that regardless, you could make up a party and say that’s your party, you should support this issue because it helps kids and empowers students. It gives families involvement in their child’s education.

That’s why we’re still optimistic. Just because there’s whatever the party split is, doesn’t mean that we can’t delve deeper and there can’t be enough votes for school choice piece of legislation that is bipartisan and that comes from both parties, because frankly, that program has so far been running wonderfully and has seen high level results for their students. So that’s why we’re optimistic. We think regardless of party that people in the Granite State, legislators in the Granite State will see the success of that program and be willing to work on a school choice expansion.

Joey Magana: Right and in some states that has been happening. In nearby Pennsylvania, we’re actually seeing some of that. So Marc, tell us about what’s happening in Pennsylvania.

Marc LeBlond: That is an absolutely magnificent segue, Joey. Well played. And I think when we’re talking about Pennsylvania, the word emotional rollercoaster probably best sums up the current situation. As you mentioned, the governor’s race in Pennsylvania, we had the current attorney general past house member, Josh Shapiro, running against current Senator Doug Mastriano.

Josh Shapiro won. He’s now Governor-Elect Josh Shapiro. And in a refreshing note of this bipartisan support for school choice, as you mentioned, which of course is a bipartisan issue, it should be a bipartisan issue, Governor-Elect Shapiro has repeatedly professed as part of his campaign support for school choice in Pennsylvania, and he’s been specific about it. He’s named Lifeline Scholarships, which is a current piece of legislation in the General Assembly, which is going to be reintroduced next session. He’s named the EITC program, so tax credit scholarships in Pennsylvania.

And this is a welcome shift in the governor’s office in Pennsylvania. You can contrast that with eight years of Governor Wolf, who frankly has said things like, “These programs are a raid on the taxpayer, they’re a distraction. I would end them if I could.” Governor Wolf, who in eight years as governor, never set foot in a charter school or a private school. And with the incoming Governor-Elect Josh Shapiro, we look forward to visiting both him and working with him on both of those things.

The Senate in Pennsylvania remains mostly unchanged, I would say unchanged with an asterisk, sitting at 28 to 22 Republicans to Democrats. And the asterisk is there was an independent in the chamber last session, so it was 28, 21 to one. So now we’re going from a tripartisan chamber to a bipartisan chamber. Not much there. They just had their leadership elections and we’re seeing some really, really good champions in leadership.

Scott Martin is shifting from Education Chair to Appropriations Chair. We’ve got Senator Ryan Aument, who’s now the majority whip for the Senate, longtime school choice champion. Remains to be seen who’s going to be education chair. I’m pulling for somebody like the Vice Chair Judy Ward, who’s a longtime school choice champion. But we just, we don’t know. We don’t have any insight until there so remains to be seen.

Now the house, this is where it gets interesting. The house flipped, and with apologies to all of my friends in Harrisburg, none of the smart money saw this coming. So we were sitting at 114 in terms of the Republican majority in the Senate. You need 102. It’s a 203 seat chamber. You need 102 and the smart money was predicting, oh, that probably goes down to 107. But it’s an increase in quality with better representatives in the rank and file.

It actually flipped. As it stands right now the house is 102 to 101 with Democrats in the majority. And the twist is, and then this is very, very interesting, there are three seats that remain vacant. They’re all in western part of the state, all in Allegheny County. You’ve got Tony DeLuca, who sadly passed away a couple months ago. You got Summer Lee who was elected to Congress, and you have Austin Davis who was elected as the Lieutenant Governor. These are each going to require a special election, which may not happen till May. So from January to May, you could be looking at with Democrats having a technical majority of 102 to 101, you could be seeing an actual majority of 101 to 99.

Now this could play out any number of ways, I’m not even going to speculate, but as it stands right now, it looks like the Democrats are going to nominate Joanna McClinton representative from Philadelphia as their speaker. And we’re going to see how that plays out. It should certainly be interesting, but there are multiple pieces of legislation. I mentioned Lifeline Scholarships. That stands to be reintroduced. Senate bill one, House bill one, a universal ESA. That stands to be reintroduced. There’s a constitutional amendment also in the play, also in the works sponsored by Representative Milou Mackenzie. And then there’s a tax credit scholarship escalator on the Senate side that also stands to be reintroduced by Senator Mike Regan, my former senator out of Cumberland County.

I was at an event recently where he very strongly stated he’s going to reintroduce that and he’s going to push that in the upcoming session. So lots to be seen in Pennsylvania, and we’ll keep you updated for sure.

Joey Magana: Yeah, it’s kind of crazy that, like you were saying, there could be a technical majority until May, and then an actual majority that could be a different party after May. Very interesting. Not a dull moment.

I think this selection cycle, a lot of us out there in the kind of political realm thought we had it kind of nailed down of exactly what was going to happen or at least close to, and then it ended up being completely different. But so goes election cycles. When the people speak, it’s always, you don’t ever know until it happens. Right? Until the votes are all counted and over.

Ed, I mean, we’re headed into next session. Tell us about the prep work for that since you’re our data guy.

Ed Tarnowski: Yes. Thank you Joey. And to your last point, the best poll is election day, as they say. But yeah, so with the end of election season comes the beginning of legislative sessions across the country. And with that, we’ll be ramping up our efforts with bill tracking here at EdChoice. I will say it’s still pretty early. We have some pre-filing going on and I do hear some inner rumblings about some positive developments that are to come. But we’re going to save that for the next podcast or maybe the one after that to see what really emerges when it becomes official. So what I really have to say is stay tuned on that.

Joey Magana: So yeah, those are kind of the updates around the states. I think I speak for the entire team, dare I even say, the entire movement, that we’re still optimistic about what is possible in the states as it relates to education reform, and more specifically choice to give families the most options that we can to customizable education. And we’re certainly for our part here at EdChoice are going to work hard to accomplish that.