Election Results Mixed for Education Future

From Electronic Education Report, November 7, 2014

Looked at in broad strokes, the mid-term elections of 2014 were a victory for the Republican Party, which picked up seven seats to win control of the Senate, expanded its House of Representatives majority by an additional 12 seats and won three more governors’ mansion. Looked at in education terms, the results are more mixed in how they will impact funding, the Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations and collective bargaining rights and support for charter school.

The new Congress that will meet in January may or may not begin work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and on the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. With a presidential election two years away, incremental bills are more likely to pass than sweeping changes.

The Obama administration and the new Congress may not agree on many points, but could try to reach a consensus in a few areas-possibly preschool where the President has advocated for making preschool education freely available to low- and middle-income families and legislators have talked about the need for more access.

With the switch in Senate control to the Republicans, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander is in line to be chair of the Senate education committee. Alexander has been critical of how the Obama administration has tied federal Race to the Top funding and waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind to aligning with administration priorities. Alexander has said he will look to transfer decisions on Common Core implementation and teacher evaluations 100% back to the states.

Minnesota Republican John Kline, chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, was re-elected. Kline introduced legislation intended to streamline and improve the process of awarding charter school grants, while also providing for additional funding that was passed by the House.

Governors’ Priorities Differ

In Pennsylania, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was defeated in a contest where the cuts he made to education funding at all levels were an issue. Governor-elect Tom Wolf offered new education proposals, particularly in support of higher education, during the campaign.

In Florida and Kansas, Republican governors Rick Scott and Sam Brownback were re-elected. Both men cut education funding sharply in their terms, saw their popularity with voters decline and upped education funding in their most recent budgets.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, also provided more money for education in his most recent budget and easily won an unprecedented fourth term for governor of that state. In California, the more hotly contested and more heavily funded race was for state superintendent of public instruction.

Tom Tolakson, a pro-union Democrat, narrowly won re-election over Marshall Tuck, another Democrat whose background was in the charter school movement. Both men supported higher funding for schools, including the plan that sends more money to districts with large percentages of low-income families and children learning English. Both backed the Common Core.

Where the men differed was on teacher evaluations and job protection. Torlakson, who views standardized tests as a guide for instruction rather than tool for evaluating teachers, was backed by teacher unions in the state.

Late in the day after the election, Arizona still had not determined who would be the next state superintendent of public instruction in that state. Republican Diane Douglas, who cited opposition to the Common Core as the key issue in her campaign, held a slim lead over Common Core supporter David Garcia.

Ballot Initiatives

Voters in a number of states also were presented with propositions that impact education. Voters in New York approved a Smart Schools proposal that will allow the state to sell up to $2 billion in bonds to fund increased access to classroom technology. That proposal was backed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of the Common Core, who easily won re-election over Rob Astorino, who made a call for replacing the Common Core with standards written for New York a centerpiece of his campaign.

Two similar ballot initiatives met different fates in different states. Illinois voters approved a 3% tax hike on incomes over $1 million to provide more funds to schools. Nevada voters rejected a similar proposal.•