Recapping State Elections: Results and Next Steps

While the country’s attention during last week’s election was largely on the presidential race, education had a lot at stake in key state-level decisions.


The first significant category of decisions was for governorships, for which 12 states held elections. Going into this month, Republicans held 31 offices, Democrats held 18, and an Independent led one state. In the 12 states with gubernatorial races, Republicans won six, Democrats won five, and one was still too close to call at press time.

The results put Republicans on track to tie or exceed a post-World War II record for the partisan control of governorships. See this link for an overview of the outcomes of each gubernatorial race.

School Chiefs

Another important category of state elections was for the chief state school officers. Prior to the election, in the 13 states where state chiefs are elected, five state chiefs were Republicans, three were Democrats, and five were nonpartisan. In two states, Indiana and North Carolina, incumbent Democratic state chiefs were defeated – Indiana’s Jennifer McCormick (R) defeated Superintendent Glenda Ritz (D), and North Carolina’s Mark Johnson (R) defeated Superintendent June Atkinson (D). In North Dakota, Superintendent Kirsten Baesler (R) was reelected. A close race in Montana resulted in a Republican chief, Elsie Arntzen, and another in Washington narrowly favored Chris Reykdal in a nonpartisan contest.

It is also important to note than in 12 states, the governor appoints the school chief. In three of these states – Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont – the governorships flipped to Republicans, while another such state, West Virginia, switched its governorship to a Democrat.

For more information on state chief races, check out this article.


This year, 86 of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers held elections to decide over 80% of all state legislative seats, or 5,916 individual legislators. At voting time, the partisan composition of state legislatures was as follows: Republicans controlled 30 legislatures, Democrats controlled 12, seven had split partisan control, and one was nonpartisan.

During the election, three state legislative chambers changed from Democratic to Republican control: the Kentucky House, Iowa Senate, and Minnesota Senate. Four bodies switched in the opposite direction: the New Mexico House, Nevada Assembly, Nevada Senate, and Washington Senate. One state chamber, the Connecticut Senate, is tied between the two parties. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) notes two intriguing conclusions from the 2016 election: Republicans now control all 30 legislative bodies in the South, and Democrats now hold every seat in the Hawaii Senate (the first time one party has done so in over 30 years). See NCSL’s infographics to learn how your state legislature is composed.

Ballot Initiatives

Voters in many states were faced with contentious ballot initiatives related to education. One high-profile measure that was defeated was a referendum in Massachusetts that would have expanded the number of charter schools. Leading up to the election, this measure showcased a split among Democrats on charter schools, with some (such as U.S. Education Secretary John King) expressing support while others (such as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA) opposed the referendum. Another prominent ballot initiative that was defeated was the proposed “Opportunity School District” in Georgia, which would have placed “failing” schools under state control.

The results were mixed on other ballot measures to increase PK-12 funding in California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Missouri, and Maine.

What’s Next?

With the election behind us, it is now more important than ever for your state policy makers to hear from your institution and state chapter. In 2017, states are likely to propose a wide array of state policies, including those stemming from the Every Student Succeeds Act and the final teacher preparation regulations.

Just last week, AACTE announced the launch of our new Advocacy Center to support your work in federal and state advocacy. Additionally, this past summer, the Advisory Council of State Representatives released a set of state policy priorities that could guide your state advocacy. (Find a customizable template of these state priorities here.) AACTE members can also conveniently locate contact information for state policy makers here, which we will be updating shortly to align with the election results as they become final.

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Aaron Goldstein

Manager, State Policy & Relations