2012 Election roundup!
Here's a review of how education issues fared, from our members across the country. Some good news, some not so good, in no particular order. What happened in your neck of the woods?
Disclaimer: As a not-for-profit organization, PAA does not endorse candidates; any opinions on specific races in the reports below are those of individual members only.
From Wendy Lecker of Connecticut: The big news in Connecticut is the defeat of the charter revision in Bridgeport. The mayor, Bill Finch, supported by Michelle Rhee, her husband, Kevin Johnson, Michael Bloomberg, ConnCAN, business leaders and more pushed a revision to the city charter that would eliminate an elected school board in favor of one appointed by the mayor. Just over a year ago, in July 2011, Mayor Finch, the President of the State Board of Education, ConnCAN and TFA reps engineered an illegal takeover of Bridgeport's BOE, which was overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court. So, Mayor Finch and his allies aimed their efforts at disenfranchising Bridgeport parents through a revision of the city charter.
Big money was poured into this campaign by Rhee, Bloomberg, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Education Reform (a business group), companies like United Illuminating, Aquarian Water, the local hospitals, etc (PAA-er Jonathan Pelto detailed the donors and their likely election law violations at jonathanpelto.com). Ads flooded the airwaves and t-shirt-clad workers staffed the polls yesterday.
PAA-CT member and retired Judge Carmen Lopez, who was instrumental in the lawsuit challenging the illegal board takeover, worked tirelessly to educate the public about the implications of an appointed board. She wrote op-eds, and spoke at gatherings all over the city. BOE members Maria Pereira (also a PAA_CT member) and John Bagley also spoke out. Jonathan Pelto exposed the questionable campaign activities of Rhee and others.
In a surprise David vs. Goliath victory for democracy, the charter revision was defeated by a vote (unofficial) of 11,121 to 9,231.
From Dora Taylor in Seattle: It's 50% for and 49% against charters in our state so far. There are still 600,000 mail-in ballots to count and most are from King Country, the most progressive county in the state and where Seattle is located. We are all crossing our fingers. It will take a few days to find out.
From Sharon Higgins, Oakland CA: Sadly in Oakland, a slate of affiliated school board candidates won their elections and the ed reform mindset is about to take full control of the school board here. I'm expecting to see an increase in the number of school closures and an increase in the number of charter school approvals.
Feeling gloomy and resigned to our fate, I expect that this new group will probably get quite close to finishing the Oakland Unified School District off. Market share-wise, privatized charter schools currently enroll a full one-third of Oakland's non-tuition paying students (12,500 in charter schools vs. 36,260 in district schools).
The first public school in Oakland was opened in 1853.
Sharon adds, "I posted how the reformers were able to win on Bob Valiant's site" which is tracking the influence of big money on education-related races:
- SCHOOL BOARD RACE IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - An unprecedented amount of money ($184,980) was given to the PAC that was started by an organization conceived and led by a former TFAer who was Special Assistant to our succession of three Broad-trained State Administrators (Great Oakland Public Schools). He was a Broad Resident at the time. The PAC was set up to support the campaigns of a slate of three new, reformy candidates. It looks like all of them won.
- Almost all of GOPS PAC's money came from three entities: one multimillionaire from Oakland (T. Gary Rogers, former Dreyer's Ice Cream CEO; $49,900), one billionaire from San Francisco (Arthur Rock, octogenarian venture capitalist; $49,000), and the California Charter Schools Association ($49,995). More here.
From Susan Barrett, Portland, OR: In Oregon, we voted down a repeal of an estate tax. We voted to reform our corporate kicker to have those funds go to K-12 when they would normally kick back, mostly to out of state corporations. We kept our current Labor Commissioner who is strong on CTE and restoring such classes and shops to our schools, and we won a Democratic House majority, and while I shouldn't get my hopes up too soon, I think because of the work we have been doing, these Dems Will be more vocal against the Gov's awful ed plans. Locally in Portland, the big news is that we passed a major construction bond to finally update our facilities. AND, a local arts initiative passed to secure every K-5 student arts education at least once per week.
And, I have not looked closely enough yet, but I think in our House races, we got rid of three ALEC members. Overall, I am pretty happy.
Julie Woestehoff reports from Chicago that the elected, representative school board referendum was overwhelmingly approved in the city precincts where it appeared. Nearly 87% of voters voted YES. This is an advisory referendum, so supporters like PURE and 19th Ward Parents Organization must now take the people's decision to the state legislature for a change in state law.
From Karen Miller, Houston TX: All 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education were up for election this year based on re-districting. The SBOE, which has been noted for its conservative positions on curriculum standards (as recently documented in the movie, "The Revisionaries,") will continue to be dominated by Republicans (including some moderates) and some "wing-nuts" or uber-conservatives lost in this election cycle, restoring some balance on the board. With six new faces (including a homeschooler, a creationist, it is likely controversy will continue as science textbooks come up for adoption. And many Texas textbooks are adopted nationally as publishers cater to large purchasers and do not make revisions for each state. I don't know what impact the adoption of Common Core Standards will have on the textbook process. This blog is a good summary.
Republicans continue to dominate the Texas legislature, but this election cycle eliminated the super-majority of the House and while the Senate has a Republican Majority, its rules have required a supermajority for bills to be heard. A charismatic, pro-public education freshman senator, Wendy Davis D-Fort Worth, retained her seat, which was in jeopardy due to re-districting.
Some legislative leaders in public education retired or were defeated this year, including the chairs of the Senate and House education committees. The Senate Ed Comm chair was named last month, Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who started the legislative Tea Party Caucus. The House chairs will not be appointed until the Speaker is elected in January. There has been a huge turnover in the legislature and a significant loss of institutional memory, which will be challenging as legislators will eventually face a school finance lawsuit decision.
At the Congressional level, Texas elected Ted Cruz, a Tea Party type, over the former House Public Education Chair, Paul Sadler, often recognized by Texas Monthly as one of the best legislators. We added four congressman due to the state's huge growth in the last decade (4.3 million!) and now have 36 members.
Leonie Haimson, of New York City, writes about several defeats for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which add up to gains for public education:
- Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett, an aggressively pro-voucher, anti-teacher education chief, and according to Diane Ravitch, "the face of right wing reform in America" was defeated by teacher Glenda Ritz, despite outspending her by more than $1 million. As the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported, "His campaign chest of about $1.5 million included contributions from billionaires and hedge-fund managers far from Indiana" including, according to the Huffington Post, an undetermined amount of Bloomberg SuperPAC cash .
- In Idaho, all three Propositions 1, 2, and 3, also known as the "Luna laws" after their right-wing State Superintendent Tom Luna, lost big. These laws would have weakened teacher tenure and collective bargaining rights, would have imposed merit pay, and would have radically expanded online learning, authorizing the state to spend $180M to lease laptops for students. Bloomberg contributed $200,000 to a secret fund to the campaign to defend these laws.
- Closer to home, the GOP seems to have lost its majority in the NY State Senate -- despite receiving a cool $1 million from Bloomberg in September, thought to be the largest single donation ever given to a state party. If a Democratic majority holds, this bodes well for parents, teachers and education advocates who would like the state Legislation to approve more progressive education policies -- including the possibility of providing checks and balances to our own extremely unpopular and coercive system of mayoral control, which unlike the citizens of Bridgeport, we never got to vote on.
From Robin Hiller in Arizona: We lost Proposition 204, a one-cent sales tax that would have created a permanent funding mechanism for education. We passed a Prop 118, a constitutional amendment stabilizing trust land payouts to schools for the next 8 years. It's estimated this will cost schools 85 million dollars a year. Our congressional races are still too close to call with the exception of Congressman Raul Grijalva who sits on the Education and workforce development committee.
Lorie Barzano from Austin TX reports that Coalition SAUS (Strengthen Austin Urban Schools) had an excellent election day locally in Austin, TX. 4 of the 9 positions on AISD Board of Trustees faced re-election this year. Last year, 3 of these 4 Trustees up for re-election voted for co-locating IDEA charter school on 2 of our public school campuses. They did so over massive public protest of the co-location. The fourth Trustee up for re-election voted against the co-location, but opted not to run for re-election. The board passed the co-location on a 6 to 3 vote last November.
Pleased to announce that the 3 Trustees who voted for co-location of the charter school last November lost their re-election bids this November. Also pleased to announce that an anti-charter, anti-privatization candidate was elected to the retiring Trustee's position. All 4 newly elected Trustees have clearly stated their belief that "charter schools are not public schools" and that they "support public education!"
In short, if we held the IDEA charter school co-location vote again today, the measure would FAIL by a 6 to 3 vote in the opposite direction! Now that's the way to flip a school board...celebrations and new hope (after much work) here in Austin.
You can read the local news story here
and Diane Ravitch's blog post here
- she reports, "The new members are pledged to listen to parents and communities before initiating new policies."
From Rita Solnet of Florida:
We had a nail biting night in Florida. We were in danger of having the Florida Senate gain a 2/3 majority. That would enable the most egregious reforms to pass easily. I didn't go to bed until 4:15 and that was because I had to.
One race-- created due to boundary changes between two south FL Senators-- was between a friend of mine and a friend to public education, Senator Maria Sachs. This race was hotly contested with over-the-top libelous flyers, malicious and never-ending tv commercials used by the pro-privatizing, pro vouchers, pro cyber charter GOP Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff. (really a new low in tv ads!)
Even though Florida hasn't finished counting the ballots (another blog!), Senator Sachs did win the election by approximately 52%. This was highly significant and caused tears of joy. For education and for many other issues, regaining her seat was paramount.
Our local (Palm Beach County) School Board race went extremely well. My candidate, Chairman Frank Barbieri, won. He ran unopposed along with another School Board Candidate. We had one difficult seat up for grabs and the charter operators (including Maverick Charters) dumped a lot of money in Christine Jax' race. However, the community united and rallied for local endorsements and volunteered for former Principal, Michael Murgio. Murgio won w/approximately 51% in a race I thought would have a wider margin. Whew.
Jacksonville (Duval County) elected two pro privatizer board members closely tied to Jeb Bush. This is very sad. Parent allies there are quite upset.
In Orlando (Orange County), one very powerful FL legislator- pro privatization - who was slated to be the FL Speaker of the House spent 5 times his opponent and lost the election by 37 votes. Unfortunately they are going through a recount process beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned. I'm in close touch with parent allies there too.
The biggest problem for the Florida Election Results was the Indiana Election Results!!
Tony Bennett is on the short list for Florida Commissioner of Education. The State Board of Ed waited to see if he'd win his bid for re-election as Superintendent of Education for Indiana. Although Bennett reportedly spent ten (10) times his opponent (per Diane Ravitch), he lost his bid for re-election in a big way. That spells trouble for Florida. Parent coalitions were in touch via text and email at 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. and again this afternoon discussing our approach to this troubling scenario.
Now let's go out and educate the legislators who did win so they'll know how to vote when duplicitous proposals for legislation land on their desks.
Last but not least, kudos to PAA's Karran Harper Royal of New Orleans,
who was not elected to the NO school board, but who still deserves our praise. As Helen Gym of Philadelphia
put it, "Karran, you put your values and heart on the line by stepping out front and running for school board in what would eventually become a national marker of proof of how big money plays in school board races. I can't imagine what a toll this took on your personal life, but thank you so much for the courage of your convictions, for speaking an independent voice in a critically important race, and for staking your ground. The fact that things have gone so awry in public ed politics makes me that much more grateful for the sacrifice you've given over the last few months."
So say we all.