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Voters Decide Elections With School Issues at Stake

By Erik W. Robelen — November 04, 2009 2 min read

By guest blogger Erik Robelen:

We’ve got a more complete picture this morning from yesterday’s elections, especially concerning ballot measures of interest to the education community. For starters, those looking to protect, and perhaps increase, contributions to school coffers got some good news in Maine, Ohio, and Washington state.

Voters in Maine rejected a version of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights that was designed to constrain the growth of state and local spending. And in Washington state, a similar measure appeared headed to defeat, according to the Seattle Times. Opponents, including teachers’ unions, argued that the TABOR initiatives would lead to cuts in public aid to education and other vital government services.

In Ohio, voters approved a measure that clears the way for the operation of gambling casinos for the first time, with a portion of the tax revenues set aside for school districts statewide.

Meanwhile, Mainers rejected an effort to repeal a 2007 law mandating the consolidation of many small, rural school districts. And, as I reported recently, education became a factor in the heated dispute over the state’s same-sex marriage law, which voters have opted to repeal. Critics of the law had put out television ads suggesting it would lead to the widespread teaching of gay marriage in schools, an effect the law’s supporters strongly disputed.

Meanwhile, political analysts were mulling the significance of the Republican victories in the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey. And The New York Times had an interesting analysis of the relatively narrow victory margin for New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The piece suggests that the mayor, who has authority over the city school system, will see his political influence diminish in his third term. It will certainly be interesting to see what that might mean for his education agenda.

In a high-profile special election in New York state, Democrat Bill Owens, with some help from the state teachers’ union, defeated Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman to join the U.S. Congress. The New York State United Teachers had initially backed Dierdre Scozzafava, a moderate Republican, but switched its support to Mr. Owens after she bowed out of the race days before the election. Leading national conservatives, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had recently campaigned on behalf of Hoffman in the race.

In his victory speech last night, Owens emphasized several issues—improving the economy and creating good jobs, protecting dairy farmers, health-care reform, and protecting a local Army base—but notably absent was education. His Web site makes no mention of K-12 education that I could find, though he does call for job training and vowed that in Congress he would seek “increased funding for higher education.” It’s funny, though. I thought it had become boiler plate for pretty much all candidates, especially Democrats, to have “education” as one of their basic issues, but Owens bundled this under the category “jobs” on his Web site.

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