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What Happened to Public Education on Election Night?

The rescue of public education must come from the grassroots, from a coalition led by parents and teachers.

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Glenda Ritz—a veteran educator who achieved the highest teaching credential, National Board Certification—will be the first Democratic state superintendent in forty-two years. She raised $327,000, less than one-fifth of Bennett’s total. It was a stunning victory for critics of Indiana’s reforms, but immediately after the election, state Republican leaders claimed that nothing would change: they considered the vote a repudiation of Bennett, not his policies. “The consensus and the momentum for reform and change in Indiana is rock solid,” outgoing Governor Mitch Daniels said. Ritz’s difficulty will be dealing with the Indiana State Legislature: the Republicans have supermajorities in both houses. Meanwhile, Bennett is now on the short-list for Florida Commissioner of Education, an appointed position.

Michigan: Voters defeated Proposal 1 (52.7 to 47.3 percent) and thereby repealed a 2011 law (Public Act 4) that allowed the governor to appoint “emergency managers” to take control of financially distressed cities and school districts. Emergency managers had the power to scrap or amend collective bargaining agreements, change pension agreements, sell public assets, and enact and repeal laws. The primary funder of the repeal campaign was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. At the time of the vote, three school districts, including Detroit’s, and five municipalities were under emergency management. This meant that over half of the state’s African-American population lived under the authority of an emergency manager or consent agreement (which grants emergency powers to local officials).

At the same time, Michigan voters defeated Proposal 2 (57.4 to 42.6 percent), a constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed public and private-sector employees the right to organize, bargain collectively, enforce agreements, and collect dues. This was a major defeat for labor. The mind-boggling cost of the campaign shows how much was at stake for the labor movement and its opponents. The unions raised about $23 million for the campaign. Opponents raised about $31 million, mostly through pro-business campaign groups. Immediately after the vote, Republicans began considering a right-to-work law to bar union membership or fee payments as a condition of employment. Once a union state par excellence, Michigan could become a right-to-work state.

Missouri: Voters defeated Proposition B (50.8 to 49.2 percent), which would have raised the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes from 17 cents (the lowest in the nation) to 90 cents. Fifty percent of the revenue would have gone to K-12 education, 30 percent to higher education, and 20 percent to curbing smoking. Proposal 2’s most prominent opponent was Ron Leone, head of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. Given the close vote and worries over cuts to the education budget, the tax will likely be on the ballot again.

Ohio: Cleveland voters approved Issue 107 (56.5 to 43.5 percent), which creates a new four-year property tax to improve the city’s schools. For the first time, local levy money will go to charter schools. The levy will bring in a maximum of $85 million annually (the city currently has a 79 percent collection rate) with $5.7 million going to charter schools that partner with the school district. The Ohio Federation of Teachers fought the charter share but ultimately supported the levy. Republican Governor John Kasich, an ed-reform devotee, wants to make the Cleveland levy a model for the rest of the state.

Oregon: Voters approved Measure 85 (59.9 to 40.1 percent), a constitutional amendment that reallocates a tax rebate for corporations to K-12 education. Funding for the campaign came from three major public employee unions: the Oregon Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The vote deals with an oddity in Oregon’s income tax system: if tax revenues for a budget cycle exceed earlier projections by more than 2 percent, the “surplus” is returned to individual and corporate taxpayers rather than saved or used for other public purposes. Most of the corporations getting the rebate—called the “kicker”—have headquarters outside Oregon. The popular individual kicker remains in place, but state economists don’t expect there to be one until 2017.