Edu-implications of the Election

November 7, 2012

I came into work this morning to find a note on my monitor that reads, “4 More Years!! :).” That nicely sums up the predominant sentiment in the nation’s capital, which celebrated last night in truly spectacular fashion. Congratulations, President Obama – may your next four years be slightly less eventful than the first.

I also tip my proverbial hat to Mitt Romney, who in my opinion ran a very good campaign. He rightfully kept his focus laser trained on the economy, he didn’t sling mud, and he should wake up this morning knowing that whatever else may be true, the results last night were not for lack of effort. Ultimately, however, this was not the right year to be a former Wall Street private equity executive who wrote an editorial in the NY Times titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Or a former governor who sponsored a state health care law that is the model for the federal health care law that the base of the Republican party deeply loathes. Those facts, combined with inexorable demographic shifts that should give the GOP cause for concern, proved to be insurmountable.

And now for some way-too-early analysis of the education implications of the election results:

  • ESEA reauthorization, call me maybe?At the federal level, there is going to be a giant rhymes-with-bluster-duck for the next few months as both parties scramble to avoid sending the nation’s economy over the fiscal cliff. No one, and I mean no one, knows how this is going to play out, but what we do know is that it will suck all the policy oxygen up for the next few months. But peering down the road into 2013, I wonder if conditions are aligning to allow for reauthorization of ESEA. On the Senate side, the smart and savvy Lamar Alexander will assume the role of ranking minority member. In the House, Rep. Kline will now have two years of seasoning as Chairman and firmer control of his caucus. True, the waivers make everything twice as messy, but it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where Senator Harkin moves a version of the ESEA bill to the floor, Speaker Boehner cuts a deal, and the President signs legislation that preserves accountability but returns responsibility for enforcement to the states.

    I’m also curious to see what happens with Angus King, the newly elected independent Senator from Maine. As Governor of that lobster-loving state, King spearheaded efforts to bring technology to the classroom (did you know Maine’s had a 1:1 computer-to-student policy for a decade?). The HELP Committee is the perfect place to park an independent, so perhaps we’ll find a new champion for education innovation on Capitol Hill.

  • Voters like charters! Two big wins for the charter-school movement. First, Georgia voters soundly approved an initiative to restore the commission that approves charter schools in the state, after a series of dubious court decisions gutted it. Second, it appears Washington state has — by the narrowest of margins — approved a charter law that will allow eight charter schools to open per year for five years. This is a big win in a very blue state. How blue? Please note that Washington voters also approved a marijuana legalization law that moves the state to the left of Amsterdam.
  • Voters don’t like merit pay, or monkeying with tenure! Voters in South Dakota and Idaho rejected initiatives to tie teacher compensation to student test scores, and to restrict collective bargaining. In fact, Idaho voters actually rejected three measures sponsored by State Superintendent Tom Luna, a serious kneecapping of his reform agenda. If these sorts of measures can’t win in the reddest of red states, one might reasonably wonder how politically viable they are anywhere else.
  • The Tragedy of Tony Bennett Indiana state superintendent Tony Bennett narrowly lost his reelection bid to Democrat Glenda Ritz. There’s no question that Bennett’s support for the Common Core hurt his standing with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, but the reality is that state teachers’ union made him a target because of the education policies he and Governor Daniels championed, and their (the union’s) ground effort had far more to do with his defeat. In any event, Bennett’s loss shrinks the already-small list of Republicans willing to vocally support the Common Core effort. The storms clouds are gathering.
  • Whither California? Governor Jerry Brown pulled off the seemingly unimaginable and convinced the voters of California to raise their own taxes. Proposition 30 passed, and by a surprisingly healthy margin. That’s a huge win for fiscal solvency and prevents the California school year from shrinking to an unimaginably short 165 days. But something else is happening in California too – the Democrats may be heading toward a 2/3rd supermajority in both chambers of the legislature. If that happens (and it’s still not certain), they will be able to raise taxes, pass budgets, and essentially dictate the entire legislative agenda without any input from Republicans. At all.

There are other edu-electoral items of note – Maryland passed a state DREAM Act, for example – which you can read more about here, here and here.