Public education fared well on election night 2012.
President Barack Obama campaigned late in the game on an education platform with frequent mentions of his Race To The Top initiative, STEM education with a push for more math and science teachers, reduction in college tuition, and increases in Pell Grants. Obama never laid out a full-scale agenda, instead relying on his plan of the last four years.
At times, Obama didn’t differ too much on his education policy from his opponent Republican Mitt Romney. Both were for charter schools and teacher accountability, which flew in the face of teacher unions, although unions endorsed Obama and worked on his behalf for reelection.
After the results were announced, the unions were quick to congratulate him on his victory.
“From day one, NEA members have supported President Obama and his vision for America and public education,” Dennis Van Roekel, the president of National Education Association, said in a statement. “And over the past two years, they worked tirelessly on behalf of America’s public school children.”
But presidential politics wasn’t the only area that focused on education. Several states, including California, had education initiatives on the ballot Tuesday. The most controversial one, Proposition 30 in California, raises sales tax by a quarter cent, as well as adding an income-tax surcharge for people who make $250,000 a year or more. It passed with 53.9 percent of the vote and is expected to provide $500 million for the state’s schools.
In Washington and Georgia, charter schools saw victory at the ballot box. A Washington proposal that previously failed three times passed Tuesday night. It will allow up to eight new charter schools to open in each of the next five years. In Georgia, where charter schools are already in existence, an initiative passed that allows the state board of education to approve charter proposals even if local school boards reject them.
Merit pay, however, didn’t fare so well.
Idaho voters voted against tying teacher pay to test scores while passing a measure that allowed teacher unions to have more collective bargaining. The National Education Association spent millions in Idaho to defeat the propositions. It worked. The initiative for merit pay failed by 57 percent. The state’s voters also repealed a law with 66 percent of the vote that required laptops for all students.
In North Dakota, voters also rejected Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard’s plan for merit pay. His education package also included phasing out tenure and recruiting candidates for critical teaching jobs. Voters said no to all of it, which was approved earlier this year by the state’s legislature, but fought by the South Dakota Education Association. They collected enough signatures to take the issue to the voters.
Arizona voters did not want a permanent one-cent tax levied on them earmarked for schools, transportation projects, and human services. A proposed increase in Missouri’s tax on tobacco products narrowly failed, which was bad news for education in the Show Me State. If it had passed, an estimated $283 million to $423 million would have been directed to K-12 education each year.
While states like Arizona and Missouri may have to push harder in the next election cycle, Governor Brown and school teachers across California can, for now, breathe a slight sigh of relief.
On Tuesday night, Brown said, “We have a vote of the people—I think the only place in America where a state actually said let's raise our taxes for our kids, for our schools, for our California dream.”