Control of the Michigan Board of Education shifted to the Democratic party on Tuesday, reducing the chances that the state education department will shutter low-performing schools.
With nearly all of the votes tallied as of Wednesday morning, Democrats Judy Pritchett and Tiffany Tilley appeared to be leading the pack of 11 candidates who had been vying for two seats on the eight-member board.
Pritchett, a former chief academic officer at the Macomb County Intermediate School District who drew large donations from Michigan labor unions, had 25 percent of the vote in preliminary returns Wednesday morning. Tiffany Tilley, the director of the Southfield Community Anti-Drug Coalition, had 24 percent of the vote.
The only incumbent in the race, Republican Richard Zeile, was running in fourth place Wednesday morning with 20 percent of the vote.
The Democratic victories on the state board were part of a successful night for Michigan Democrats, who rode a wave of antipathy to President Donald Trump to take victories in statewide positions, including governor.
The state board, which is tasked with hiring a state superintendent and overseeing the state department of education, has been evenly divided for the last two years between four Democrats and four Republicans. Now the split will be 6-2.
Pritchett and Tilley were elected to eight-year terms, but they’ll have plenty to do in year one.
In the coming months, the board will hire a replacement for former state superintendent Brian Whiston, who died in May. The new superintendent could play a crucial role in deciding the future of Michigan’s lowest-performing schools — most of which are in Detroit.
Those schools have been threatened with closure in the past and are currently in partnership agreements with the state that require them to meet test score improvement targets or face potentially serious consequences. The state education department is also charged with making crucial decisions about the standards that will be used to determine which third-graders could be held back under a tough new state law that requires students to reach a still-undefined reading level in order to pass the third grade.
To learn more about the two new board members, read their responses to our candidate survey below, or watch them lay out their positions at a candidate forum.