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School & District Management

Election Offers Varied Impact for Education

November 04, 2009 6 min read
NYCMayor 515

The results from yesterday’s state and local elections around the country offer some potentially significant implications for K-12 education, as voters sent two big-city mayors with authority over their school systems back for another term and replaced Democrats with Republicans in two governors’ mansions. They also rejected ballot measures in Maine and, apparently, Washington state that some education advocates feared could harm school coffers.

Both Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City, an Independent, and Democratic Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston won re-election bids. But Mr. Bloomberg—whose education record was a central theme in the campaign, and who spent some $90 million of his personal fortune on the race—won with a smaller-than-expected margin, and some observers say he will likely have a weaker political mandate for his third term in office.

“We’re all watching him very closely to see how a new, humbled Mike Bloomberg treats education as an issue,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee, which took no position on the race.

The Votes Are In

GUBERNATORIAL RACES

New Jersey

Jon S. Corzine
Democrat
Christopher J. Christie √
Republican
Christopher J. Daggett
Independent

Virginia

R. Creigh Deeds
Democrat
Robert F. McDonnell √
Republican


MAYORAL RACES

New York City

Michael R. Bloomberg √
Independent
William C. Thompson Jr.
Democrat

Boston

Thomas M. Menino √
Democrat
Michael F. Flaherty
Democrat

Voters in Maine rejected a version of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which would have imposed limits on spending by state and local governments and required voter approval of certain tax increases. In Washington state, a similar measure to limit the growth of state and local revenues appeared headed to defeat, though the final outcome had not been announced as of this afternoon. Opponents, including teachers’ unions, argued that the two TABOR initiatives would have led to cuts in public aid to education and other vital government services.

Ohio voters, meanwhile, approved a measure that clears the way for the operation of gambling casinos for the first time in that state, with a portion of the tax revenues set aside for school districts statewide. And in Detroit, voters approved a bond referendum to fund a $500 million building plan for the city’s public schools.

In Maine, the site of a variety of ballot measures this year, voters also rejected an effort to repeal a 2007 law mandating the consolidation of many small, rural school districts. (“Education Issues Bidding for Voters’ Attention,” Oct. 28. 2009.)

Education even became a factor in the heated dispute over the state’s same-sex marriage law, which voters opted to repeal through a referendum. Critics of the law had put out television ads suggesting it would lead to the widespread teaching in schools about gay marriage, an effect the law’s supporters strongly disputed.

‘Just Getting Started’

The performance of New York City’s public schools was a central issue in the mayoral contest between Mr. Bloomberg and Democrat William C. Thompson Jr., the city’s comptroller and the former president of the city board of education.

“We’re ... going to keep improving what is far and away the best public school system of any big city in the country,” Mr. Bloomberg said in his Nov. 3 victory speech. “We’ve made amazing progress in the last eight years, and we’re just getting started.”

Also on the Ballot

Measures in several states involved education, directly or indirectly.

MAINE

Question 1: Would repeal a new state law allowing same-sex marriages. VOTE: YES
Supporters of the repeal effort claimed that the law, signed by Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, in May, would lead public schools across Maine to teach about gay marriage, which opponents of the measure denied.

Question 2: Would cut the rate of the municipal excise tax on motor vehicles less than 6 years old and exempt hybrid and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax. VOTE: NO
Opponents said the measure would place a greater strain on local property taxes, which primarily fund public schools, to help make up the lost revenue.

Question 3: Would repeal a 2007 state law on school district consolidation. VOTE: NO
The law requires many small districts to consolidate into larger, regional units.

Question 4: Would impose limitations on spending by state and local governments, and require voter approval of certain tax increases. VOTE: NO

OHIO

Issue 3: Would authorize the operation of gambling casinos in Ohio for the first time, with one facility each allowed in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. VOTE: YES
A portion of the tax revenues would be set aside for school districts statewide.

WASHINGTON STATE

Initiative 1033: Would limit the growth of certain state, county, and city revenues to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases. VOTE: NO
Revenue collected above the limit would have reduced property-tax levies.

SOURCE: Education Week

Mr. Bloomberg won 51 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for Mr. Thompson, a difference of less than 51,000 votes, and a margin well below what was widely expected for the incumbent.

“The election results are going to mean the mayor has to be more consensual in his approach than he would have been otherwise,” said Kenneth S. Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College in New York City.

Mr. Sherrill noted that the city teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, did not take a stance in the race.

“The mayor has to be very thankful to the teachers union for its neutrality in this election,” he said. “Had they provided the political muscle that other unions provided to Thompson, Bloomberg might have lost.”

Mr. Williams, from Democrats for Education Reform, said he’s eager to see what education issues the mayor champions during his third term, observing that the mayor dwelled during the campaign on his prior record.

“Education was a pretty important part [of his campaign], but it was all about the past,” Mr. Williams said. “It was almost like he was just trying to run out the clock.”

Mr. Bloomberg did offer a couple of agenda items. On his Web site, he pledged to double the number of charter schools in the city and to spend an additional $50 million over the next four years to help reach his goal of graduating 120,000 New Yorkers from community colleges by 2020.

Education also played a key role in the Boston mayoral contest, with city councilman Michael F. Flaherty Jr. attacking Mayor Menino’s stewardship of the city school system and the city’s lack of progress in stemming the high school dropout rate.

Mr. Menino, a Democrat who for years had opposed charter schools, shifted his stance earlier this year, saying he now supports converting some of Boston’s low-performing schools into charters.

‘The Best Public Education’

In New Jersey, incumbent Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, based his campaign in part on his education record. But voters instead backed Republican Christopher J. Christie, a former U.S. attorney whose education agenda emphasized expanding school choice in K-12 education and taking steps to make New Jersey a more attractive place for students to attend, and complete, college.

Mr. Christie promised in his victory speech yesterday that he would work to rein in state spending and “suffocating taxes,” and revamp a state government “that was out of control.”

Although the Republican made no mention of his plans for schools in the speech, he did touch on his own education, recalling how his parents moved the family from Newark to Livingston, N.J., when he was five years old.

“They wanted our family to have the best public education we could possibly have, and everything that I’ve been lucky to become, the foundation was laid for that in those schools, in those years, by great teachers and by my great parents,” he told supporters gathered in a hotel ballroom in Parsippany, N.J.

In Virginia, school matters were largely overshadowed by other issues, especially jobs, taxes, and transportation, in the closely watched governor’s race, in which Republican Robert F. McDonnell won handily against state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat.

“We will do everything possible to keep taxes and regulation and litigation and spending to a minimum here in Virginia so that freedom can grow,” he told supporters in Richmond after his victory was assured. Mr. McDonnell made a brief reference to education, saying, “I’ve met with college students at our great universities and heard about their concerns about rising tuitions and challenges in the job market.”

Leading Republicans and some pundits suggest the GOP victory in Virginia can be seen as a repudiation of President Barack Obama’s political agenda, but some core elements of McDonnell’s education platform bear a striking resemblance to top Obama priorities. Both have emphasized calls for teacher performance pay and expanding the charter schools sector.

Mr. McDonnell’s campaign Web site says: “Bob will be focused on supporting parents and students, equipping principals with the tools they need, rewarding excellent teachers and principals with performance pay, improving financial accountability, getting more resources into the classroom, and making charter schools more accessible for Virginia’s children.”

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, an affiliate of both the AFT and the National Education Association, 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 Mr. Hoffman in the race.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2009 edition of Education Week

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