States

Education Issues Underscore Election Stakes at All Levels

By Andrew Ujifusa & Alyson Klein — October 30, 2012 4 min read
A girl waits behind the barricades before a campaign event for President Barack Obama in Dayton, Ohio, last week. He and his rival, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have criss-crossed the country in the last, intense weeks of the race.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Education policy and funding—from common standards and college access to the prospect of “doomsday” budget cuts—have been a steady theme in this year’s presidential campaign, even as more specific K-12 debates lighted the political landscape in various states.

And with the strategic balance in Congress in play, along with the makeup of 44 state legislatures and the fate of numerous education-related ballot measures, the Nov. 6 elections could have a lasting impact on the direction of precollegiate policy.

While the economy has commanded attention in the televised face-offs between President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, both candidates have emphasized their credentials and records on education, Mr. Obama through his initiatives over the past four years, Mr. Romney through his record as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. Their speeches and debates illuminated sharp differences on the federal role in education.

Spending Issue

Compare the Candidates

President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have shown sharp contrasts—and some similarities—on various areas of education policy. See of where they stand, and what they’ve said, on key issues.

BRIC ARCHIVE

View the candidate side-by-side.

Education spending, in particular, has emerged as an issue in the presidential race, with Mr. Obama contending that his rival would support big cuts to K-12, higher education, and early-learning programs.

“Cutting our education budget, that’s not a smart choice, that will not help us compete with China,” Mr. Obama said in his Oct. 22 debate against Mr. Romney in Boca Raton, Fla., which was centered on foreign policy.

The president’s criticism stems mainly from a budget blueprint put forth by Mr. Romney’s running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Mr. Romney has called the proposal “marvelous,” although he did not explicitly endorse every individual aspect of it. That plan would slash domestic discretionary spending—the broad category that includes education—by roughly 20 percent.

President Barack Obama leans in to speak with schoolchildren from Daughter of Zion Jr. Academy at an unscheduled stop after speaking at a campaign event in Delray Beach, Fla., last week.

For his part, Mr. Romney said during the first debate, held in Denver on Oct. 3, that he would not cut education spending, but he did not offer specifics.

“I don’t have any plan to cut education funding and—and grants that go to people going to college. ... I’m not planning on making changes there,” Mr. Romney said.

Fiscal issues have also been a major theme of congressional races. Most political prognosticators see little chance that the U.S. House of Representatives will slip from GOP control, although the battle for the Senate is tighter, with Democrats now holding just 51 seats. The balance of power in Congress could help determine how lawmakers handle an issue expected to dominate Washington whoever wins next week: sequestration.

That term refers to a series of looming, across-the-board cuts to military and domestic programs—including education—intended to prompt a long-term deficit-reduction plan. The White House estimates that unless Congress heads off those cuts, education programs would be slashed by 8.2 percent starting early next year. Generally, most school districts would not feel the squeeze until the 2013-14 school year.

The Republican presidential nominee, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, greets well-wishers during a campaign appearance at D’Evelyn High School in Denver in September.

Education policy issues have gotten less play on the campaign trail. Mr. Romney has called for turning more than $25 billion in federal school funding over to parents to use at any school of their choice, including private schools. And Mr. Obama has touted his administration’s K-12 accomplishments, including encouraging states to raise their academic standards through the Race to the Top program and spurring efforts to turn around low-performing schools.

Key State Questions

Education Voter's Guide

Read about the issues and contests to watch Nov. 6 and the election-night stakes for state and federal education policy.

BRIC ARCHIVE

View the education voter’s guide.

At the state level, 44 states are holding elections for their legislatures this year. Republicans appear likely to keep their partisan edge in statehouses—they now control 26, with the Democrats holding 15, eight split between parties, and one nonpartisan legislature. If the status quo holds, measures passed after the 2010 GOP electoral wave that curbed teachers’ collective bargaining and increased school choice could stay firmly in place or even expand in some states.

Among individual states, ballot measures are grabbing much of the attention.

Dueling initiatives in California seek to dramatically increase state revenue for public schools, both through income-tax increases, while a separate initiative would prohibit unions from using payroll deductions for political purposes, an idea that has roiled teachers’ unions.

Idaho residents will decide whether to uphold or repeal three laws passed in 2011 that, respectively, institute teacher merit pay, limit collective bargaining, and require more technology in schools.

And Washington state voters will decide whether to open the door to charter schools in that state, one of nine that currently don’t allow them.

This year’s ballots also include 11 gubernatorial contests, four elections for state schools chiefs, and voting for 10 state school boards, along with an advisory public education commission in New Mexico.

A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 2012 edition of Education Week as Education Issues Suffuse Ballots

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Creating Confident Readers: Why Differentiated Instruction is Equitable Instruction
Join us as we break down how differentiated instruction can advance your school’s literacy and equity goals.
Content provided by Lexia Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

States States Direct Districts to Defy New Title IX Rule on Transgender Students
Some districts could be in a perilous legal squeeze play between their states and the feds.
4 min read
Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters presides over a special state Board of Education meeting on April 12, 2023, in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters presides over a state Board of Education meeting about Title IX regulations on April 12, 2023, in Oklahoma City. The state is among several whose leaders plan to defy new Biden administration regulations on Title IX, which covers sex discrimination.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
States Superintendent Vacancies Are High. Is Loosening Requirements a Good Idea?
Wisconsin's governor, a former educator, vetoed a bill that would have waived licensure requirements for district leaders.
3 min read
Photo of superintendent meeting with staff.
E+ / Getty
States Is Tutoring at Risk? States Stretch to Keep Funding in Place
States are using a variety of ways to ensure that tutoring programs can continue.
6 min read
Vector illustration tutoring concept of online learning with teacher and students.
iStock/Getty
States Republican and Democratic Governors Both Are Touting This K-12 Priority
Workforce readiness and career and technical education were the most common education themes in governors' state of the state addresses.
6 min read
Heidi Griebel and Josie Wahl participate in carpentry class at Career and Technical Education Academy in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Jan. 7, 2019.
Heidi Griebel and Josie Wahl participate in carpentry class at Career and Technical Education Academy in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Jan. 7, 2019. CTE programs were a core theme of several governors' state addresses in 2024.
Loren Townsley/The Argus Leader via AP