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States Opinion

Tuesday’s Ballot Initiatives: A Split Decision on Ed

By Rick Hess — November 08, 2012 2 min read
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On Tuesday, the undercard featured a slew of intriguing ballot initiatives. The popular press has focused on measures that legalized pot, gay marriage, and in-state versions of the DREAM Act in various places. Meanwhile, several important education measures have received less attention.

On the whole, the education initiatives yielded a split decision. For smart commentary on how to interpret the results, check out Andy Rotherham here, Mike Petrilli here, or my colleague K.C. Deane here.

Teachers unions won telling victories on two major referenda in California and won big on three more in deep red Idaho. In California, by a 54-46 margin, voters endorsed Prop 30, raising sales taxes as well as income taxes on high earners in order to fund education. And voters defeated Prop 32, which would have enacted “paycheck protection,” requiring unions to get members’ okay before spending dues on political activity (it lost 44-56).

In Idaho, voters sided with the unions and rejected three key components of the state’s reform package, enacted by the legislature last session. Voters shot down the statute limiting collecting bargaining (it lost 43-57), a statute enacting performance-based teacher pay (it lost 42-58), and requiring that districts do more to shift to online- and computer-assisted teaching (it lost by a whopping 67-33).

At the same time, the unions lost a dramatic push to ensconce collective bargaining rights in the state constitution in reliably blue Michigan and they got beat on charter schooling in longtime charter holdouts Washington state and Georgia. The Michigan proposal, which would have made impossible the kinds of reforms Governor Scott Walker pushed in Wisconsin, lost 42-58. Washington state voters, who had shot down several previous efforts to legalize charter schooling, appear to have narrowly approved charters, by 51-49 (though final results aren’t yet in). In Georgia, charters won big, 59-41.

What’s it mean? Three big takeaways for me.

First, unions did better on questions related to bargaining and teacher pay than they did on charters. For the “reform” community, the results were the obverse.

Second, the night was something of a split decision. That alone, though, suggests a hell of an upswing for unions from where they were this summer, after their failure to recall Scott Walker and after Dennis van Roekel’s acknowledgment that the NEA was losing members at a worrisome clip. Add these results together with the outcome of the Chicago strike, Tony Bennett’s defeat in Indiana, and the fact that the UTLA in Los Angeles felt spry enough the other week to refuse to sign onto LAUSD’s Race to the Top application, and you’ve got to figure that 2013 is going to see some union fireworks.

Third, we again see evidence of the split between Republicans and progressive education reformers--and the progressives fared better. The “reform” wins were mostly for things where progressives teamed with conservatives (e.g. charter schools) or with the unions (e.g. more taxes for school spending). The defeats--on paycheck protection in California and teacher reforms and virtual schooling in Idaho--were on issues where Republicans were carrying the ball and progressive support was less in evidence. We’ll just see what that means going forward.

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