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NEA News

Who Were Big Winners in the 2023 Elections? Students and Educators!

In state and local elections across the country, voters chose candidates who pledged to invest in public schools over those peddling vouchers and culture war politcs.
election 2023 education
Published: November 15, 2023

Key Takeaways

  1. Voters sent a clear message on Election Day: They value their public schools and want leaders who will support and invest in them. Pro-public education candidates won up and down the ballot.
  2. Campaigns focused on vouchers and culture war issues like book bans, censoring the curriculum, and attacks on the LGBTQ community fell flat.

In two states this fall, voters weighed judgment on high-profile governors: One a strong supporter of public schools, the other a proponent of vouchers, book bans, and bullying teachers. They re-elected the first and decisively rejected the latter's political agenda.

Indeed, in state and local elections across the country, voters delivered a heartening reminder to educators, parents, and students: They want elected leaders who will invest in their public schools.

Continuing the trend seen in the 2022 elections, candidates who pledged to work with educators, students and parents to support and improve public schools had far more success than those who ran campaigns focused on vouchers and culture war issues like book bans, censoring the curriculum, and attacks on the LGBTQ community.

Such manufactured crises that conservative extremists have relied upon to energize small segments of their base fell flat in yet another general election. This held true in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike, in so-called red states and blue states.

Educators, especially NEA members, did their part to keep education issues front and center throughout this election cycle. They partnered with parents to help pro-public education candidates by volunteering, knocking doors, calling voters, and talking to their friends and neighbors. 

Kentucky Governor Wins Again on Pro-Public Ed Campaign

KEA members with Gov. Andy Beshear
Kentucky Education Association members strongly supported the re-election of public education champion Gov. Andy Beshear (pictured, center).

Kentucky voters reelected public education champions Gov. Andy Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a public school teacher.

Beshear ran an assertively pro-public schools campaign, touting his public education record in debates, at campaign rallies, and in political advertising. In the weeks before Election Day, he proposed a $400 million increase in education spending over two years that would allow for both teacher raises and an increase to the per pupil school funding levels.

He drew attention to the sharp contrast between himself and opponent Daniel Cameron, who supports private school vouchers and promised to drag culture wars into classrooms and onto campuses if elected.

Beshear’s decisive victory was celebrated far beyond state lines.

“For the last four years, Governor Beshear has put Kentucky’s students - no matter their race, place, or background - at the top of his priority list, said NEA President Becky Pringle. “He has partnered with parents, families, and educators across the Commonwealth to expand learning opportunities for students, invested in mental health supports for students, started addressing educator shortages by paying educators the professional compensation they deserve, and worked to ensure students are learning the skills they need to be successful in life,” Pringle said.

Virginia Voters Want More than Culture Wars

While Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was not up for re-election himself, his name was front and center throughout the 2023 election cycle. Every seat in Virginia’s General Assembly was on the ballot, and Youngkin campaigned for conservative candidates in the hopes of gaining a majority in the state Senate.

Education was a top issue in Virginia throughout the election cycle. Gov. Youngkin has a record of working to undermine public schools, censor honest conversation about race in the state’s history curriculum, and pit parents against educators. His administration established a phone line in 2022 for parents to report teachers for “divisive practices.” (Many parents instead chose to leave positive comments about their public schools; the phone line was later quietly shut down.)

“Citizens of the Commonwealth saw the Youngkin-Republican agenda for what it is—MAGA objectives harmful to Virginians,” said Virginia Education Association (VEA) President James J. Fedderman after the 2023 election results were in. “They demanded a more common-sense approach to governance, not the politics of exclusion and unnecessary culture wars.”

Among the many notable victories was that of VEA member and high school government teacher Schuyler VanValkenburg. He flipped a Senate seat in the Richmond area, defeating the incumbent Republican by earning 54 percent of the vote.

More than a dozen other VEA-recommended candidates won seats in the General Assembly.

Voters’ support for pro-public education candidates extended to school board races as well. Pro-public education majorities won in both Spotsylvania and Loudoun Counties.

School Board Races Tell the Same Story

Voters broadly rejected candidates backed by the ultra-conservative Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project, groups that have waged multi-year campaigns to control local school boards around the country.

This year, all eyes were on Central Bucks, Pennsylvania, a swing district where the conservative-dominated school board made national news earlier this year with their slate of restrictions, including banning books about LGBTQ issues and Pride flags in classrooms. Voters had their say as public school allies swept all five of the open seats.

Candidates recommended by the Pennsylvania State Education Association also scored important victories in Central York, Carlisle, Mechanicsburg, State College, and elsewhere. 

Iowa voters, too, rejected extremist school board candidates in favor of those who promised to invest in public schools. In fact, 87 percent of the school board candidates recommended by the Iowa State Education Association won their elections.

Notably, ISEA-backed candidates won every single race against a Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidate.

“Voters spoke loudly and clearly about who they want to make crucial decisions affecting students and educators in their local communities,” said Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association.

In November and in earlier school board elections this year, public school allies fought tough races to deliver resounding victories around the country:

  • The Washington Education Association supported more than 100 school board candidates this cycle. At least 65% of WEA-recommended candidates won their races.
  • In Kansas, 81% of the pro-public education candidates won their elections. 
  • In Minnesota, 85% of pro-public education candidates won their elections, including clean sweeps in 6 districts where pro-public education candidates went head-to-head with right-wing interest group candidates. 
  • In Montana, 81% of pro-public education candidates won. 
  • In Illinois, 90% of pro-public education candidates won. 
  • In Missouri, 80% of pro-public education candidates won.  
  • In New York, 85% of pro-public education candidates won. 
  • In Wisconsin, pro-public education candidates similarly won the vast majority of races, including the race that the chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin called "the most important school board race." 
  • In Oregon, The Oregonian reported that “‘Culture wars’ candidates for Oregon school boards mostly lost” 
  • In Lincoln, Neb., all three pro-public education candidates on the ballot won
  • In Fairbanks, Alaska, pro-public education candidates won all six races for the Fairbanks School Board and the Fairbanks Assembly, including defeating four anti-public education incumbents. 


Becky Pringle at an immigration rally with a bullhorn

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.