The governor of a state serves as the state’s chief decisionmaker and is the single elected official who wields the most influence over the state’s policy agenda and priorities over the course of his or her term. A state governor’s priorities are generally determined by a combination of the state’s most immediate needs and opportunities, political pressure, and the governor’s own political ideology and values. While most gubernatorial elections occur on even-numbered years, three southern states are holding governor elections this fall: Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In two of those states – Kentucky and Louisiana – incumbent governors face challengers confident that their vision for their state is stronger and more representative of the state’s needs than that of the incumbent. In one state – Mississippi – the incumbent governor is term limited, opening the door for a new candidate to set the policy vision for Mississippi. In all three states, voters have taken a keen interest in K-12 education and state-based solutions to improve educational outcomes for students.
Although 2019’s gubernatorial elections fall between major election years and may spur lower voter turnout as a result, this year’s election results are equally important when compared to others as a determinant for student success and educational equity in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In all three participating states, education policy issues including, but not limited to, school funding, school privatization, student safety, and teacher pay will all be directly impacted by the elected governors’ decisions.
For example, a state’s average teacher salary is also one of a number of issues guided by the governor. While a state’s legislature ultimately determines appropriations for teachers’ salaries, the governor’s decision to prioritize an increase in teachers’ compensation sets in motion legislation to do so. Data from the National Education Association (NEA) show that average teacher salaries in the South still lag behind the nationwide average despite teacher strikes and salary increases in some states. The table below provides a southern snapshot of average teacher salaries by state, with the state highlighted in green (Maryland) having the highest average and the state highlighted in red (Mississippi) having the lowest average.