There's a lot more for educators to watch on election night than what's happening at the top of the ticket nationally.
From local school board races and state legislatures to what party controls the U.S. Congress, many of the decisions voters make Tuesday will have big stakes for schools on everything from the immediate COVID-19 crisis to long-term education policy.
And, of course, the presidential election matters, too. The nominees-President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden-have offered competing visions for the direction of the federal pandemic response, additional relief aid, and a host of other K-12 issues.
Here are some education storylines to follow on election night.
Growing interest among high school students and others in youth-oriented political movements like March for Our Lives and protests against racial inequity has sparked new hopes in recent years that younger voters will buck a years-long trend of low youth turnout in elections.â¯
As Education Week wrote in October, COVID-19 has thrown new hurdles in front of high school voter engagement efforts. â¯But teenagers, some too young to vote themselves, are making big pushes to get their peers to the polls. They've piloted social media outreach strategies, held drive-thru registration days, and encouraged interest in down-ballot races.
There are some early signs their efforts may pay off. The Center for Information on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University reports that, in a majority of states, the number of 18- and 19-year-olds who registered to vote in 2020 topped 2016 numbers.
A Biden win could mean a big shift in the way the U.S. Department of Education approaches some issues. A second Trump term could mean an acceleration of already stated priorities.â¯
You can check out where both candidates stand on a range of issues in our interactive tracker: Education in the 2020 Presidential Race. Here are a few major differences:
In recent months, stalled negotiations about additional coronavirus aid for schools have frustrated educators and advocates alike. As our Politics K-12 blog wrote in October, Election Day could be the "turning point in coronavirus relief negotiations."
If the GOP retains control of the Senate, the odds will be slimmer for a larger relief package favored by Democrats. If Biden wins the White House and Democrats take both chambers of Congress, advocates may get the bold bill they've been waiting for, although it would come much later than they'd hoped.â¯
Another question to ask the old Magic 8 Ball: If there's a shift in party control in either branch of government, would any movement happen in the lame duck period before a new team takes office in January?
The pandemic has made politics even more personal for parents, educators, and ordinary people who value their school systems.
Elected officials at all levels have affected virus mitigation efforts, like mask mandates, and they've set policies that have driven school reopening decisions. Those decisions have become a subject of debate in races for governor and for state legislatures around the country.
And these races—11 governors seats and spots in 44 states' legislatures—will have consequences for schools. States may have to make some tough decisions about education budgets as revenues decline. And governors will play a key role in distributing federal aid and guiding efforts to test for the virus and administer an eventual vaccine.
Voters around the country will consider education-related ballot issues:
School board races often receive less attention than other issues on the ballot, but current conditions have driven home their importance for many voters.
Districts around the country have navigated a patchwork of widely varying state reopening directives and shifting federal guidance to decide when and how to return students to school buildings. Some parents have argued that politics have played too big a role in those decisions, while others say limited data on the virus makes it difficult to feel confident in any plan.
And, oh yeah, school boards make a lot of everyday, non-pandemic decisions that have big effects in the classroom, too. They steer policies related to school discipline, facilities, and teacher pay.
"The pandemic has proven that leadership at every level of education matters, whether that's in the White House or on your local school board," National School Boards Association President Charlie Wilson wrote in a recent Education Week opinion piece. "And yes, this leadership is crucial during tumultuous times, like global pandemics and economic recessions, but it's also vital in the everyday, regular work of educating our nation's more than 50 million public school students."
One to watch: Education Week's Benjamin Herold recently explored how shifting demographics and concerns about racial equity have shaped the school board race in Gwinnett County, Ga.
The presidential race, and the accompanying rhetoric, have been especially divisive this year. For teachers, that can create a complicated teachable moment that fuses civics lessons with efforts to help students engage in debates in a respectful way.
"Teaching the election in the past has always been a joyful thing. I always looked forward to it," a New York teacher told Education Week last month. "I just find in a more hyper-partisan world that now it's become something where I'm more worried about hurt feelings, or somebody getting the wrong takeaway."â¯
And concerns about a delayed vote count, Election Day snafus, and legal challenges to tight results could provide fuel for classroom conversations in the coming weeks.
We spoke to civics teachers about teaching the election, and what comes next, in this Education Week video.