Kentucky’s Midterm Elections: Winners and Losers

It’s been a week since the 2018 midterm elections, but the results are as fresh as ever in the minds of Kentucky teachers. Spurned by Gov. Bevin’s controversial comments and policies, teachers across the Bluegrass protested. At rallies, other teachers and their supporters swore that they would “remember in November.”

It looks like they forgot.

Of the 51 educators running for public office, 37 lost. The GOP maintained its tight grasp on both of Kentucky’s legislative chambers, empowering a governor who’s no stranger to controversy. For school reform supporters, last Tuesday night was mostly a success; for the Remember in November crowd, it was a nightmare.

The 2018 midterm elections held serious implications for school funding and education reform in Kentucky, but like every race, there are winners and losers. Here’s what you need to know.

The Winner: Matt Bevin

Republicans like Kentucky’s Andy Barr may have claimed razor-thin victories, but KYForward contributor Bill Straub argues that it was actually the Governor who was the big winner of the night: “The honor goes to someone who wasn’t even on the ballot – St. Matt of New Hampshire, our boy Bevin, the reigning governor, who now appears on a glide path toward a second term in 2019 despite the widespread, and understandable, notion that he’s a boob.”

Despite teacher protests and walkouts earlier this spring, the same Governor Bevin who infamously waged “war on public education” seems to be sitting pretty with a firm majority in both the House and the Senate. Sure, his derogatory remarks may have enraged teachers across the Bluegrass, but without a meaningful shakeup in Kentucky’s General Assembly, what does it amount to?

With the #RedforEd wave turning out to be more of, well, just a “red” wave, look for Governor Bevin to start feeling his oats when it comes to major legislative battles waiting just ahead in the next session. (Charter school funding, I’m looking at you.)

The Loser: Kentucky’s Teacher Candidates

We’ve seen some pretty spectacular choke jobs the past few years. There were the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, for example, and who could forget how the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to give LeBron James his first ring in Cleveland?

Well, Kentucky’s politician-teachers (poli-teachers?) are the latest iteration of such disappointment.

There was a total of 51 teachers on the ballot for Kentucky’s General Assembly last Tuesday, including teachers, support staff, university employees, and school board members. Only 14 educators won their races and all but 2 were incumbents anyway.

Seeing as though the majority of these 51 educators ran as Democrats in a deep red state, flipping either of Kentucky’s legislative chambers blue would have been a long shot. Democrats may have been able to take two seats in the House, but the GOP will still maintain its supermajorities in both chambers. The #RedforEd wave that teachers were hoping for simply didn’t happen.

The Uphill Battle: Funding For Charter Schools

If last week’s election was indeed a referendum on charter schools, you wouldn’t have known it from the results alone. The overwhelming majority of pro-charter legislators won re-election, so it’s tempting to assume that they’ll get around to funding charters as soon as the General Assembly reconvenes. And of course, talk of pension reform still looms heavy as the Kentucky Supreme Court decides what to make of the controversial bill that passed earlier this spring, but was later ruled unconstitutional by a Franklin County judge. So both issues are bygones, right?

Not quite. In fact, on both charter schools and pensions, even the most gung-ho of reformers recognize that crafting new reforms won’t be easy.

For example, Commissioner Wayne Lewis has already called for the upcoming assembly to develop a funding mechanism for charter schools, but 2019 isn’t a budget year. In order to fund charter schools in the upcoming year, a special session would have to be called by the GOP supermajority, and Republicans who just fought and won tough re-election bids might not be up for the task quite yet. If it were to happen at all, you can guarantee that teachers unions and advocacy groups like #120United will be all over it.

The Next Round: Kentucky’s 2019 Gubernatorial Race

Finally, if last week’s election did nothing else, it certainly set the stage for next year’s gubernatorial race.

Entering stage right, there’s the newly-emboldened incumbent Governor Matt Bevin, ready to define the next four years by reforming health care, industry, and of course, Kentucky’s schools. On stage left, we have two tickets clinging to whatever is left of the #RedforEd campaign. Whether Andy Beshear or Rocky Adkins wins the nomination, they would each provide a running mate with education ties and a flurry of support from teachers unions.

Both of the anti-reform Democrats are hoping that Bevin’s status as one of the least popular governors in the country will sully his re-election hopes, though Tuesday night’s results seem to bode well for the incumbent governor. Next November, we’ll see if the tides have changed.


Photo by OzinOH, CC-Licensed.

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