School & District Management

Elections Expected to Affect School Policy

November 10, 2009 4 min read
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The results from last week’s state and local elections 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, replaced Democrats with Republicans in two governors’ mansions, and rejected ballot measures in Maine and 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 reportedly spent at least $90 million of his personal fortune on the race—won with a smaller-than-expected margin, and some observers say he will have a weaker political mandate for his third term.

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

“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.

Republican Christopher J. Christie, who unseated New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Jon S. Corzine, made his first public appearance the day after the election at a Newark charter school. Mr. Christie, whose education agenda emphasized expanding school choice, described the school, the Robert Treat Academy, as “a model that we should replicate all over the state.”

Meanwhile, 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 also was defeated. Opponents, including teachers’ unions, argued that the two tabor initiatives would have led to cuts to education and other vital government services.

Christopher J. Christie: The New Jersey governor-elect celebrates on election night.

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, 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 public schools across Maine to teach about gay marriage, an effect the law’s supporters 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 a former president of the city board of education.

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

“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.

He won 51 percent of the vote, compared with 46 percent for Mr. Thompson.

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

Mr. Sherrill noted that the local 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,” 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.

“Education was a pretty important part [of his campaign], but it was all about the past,” Mr. Williams said.

On his campaign Web site, Mr. Bloomberg did offer at least a couple of education proposals, pledging to double the city’s number of charter schools and to improve its system of community colleges.

Education also played a big role in Boston’s mayoral race, with city Councilman Michael F. Flaherty Jr. attacking Mayor Menino’s stewardship of the city schools.

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.

Robert F. McDonnell: The Virginia governor-elect, above right, appears with Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The mayor made no specific mention of his education plans in his victory speech last week, but vowed to press for change.

“Complacency is the highest hurdle we face,” he said.

In New Jersey, Gov. Corzine made his education record a key part of his failed re-election bid.

The visit last week by Mr. Christie to a Newark charter school highlighted the former U.S. attorney’s stated desire to improve urban education, which he has wrapped largely in calls for more school choice, including charter schools. But the dominant themes of his campaign were to rein in taxes and state spending, and to revamp a state government he has called “out of control.”

In the Virginia governor’s race, school matters were largely overshadowed by other issues, especially jobs, taxes, and transportation. Republican Robert F. McDonnell, a former state attorney general, defeated state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as Elections Expected to Affect School Policy

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