Here Are Key State Issues Decided Tuesday that Impact Public Schools

Donald Trump has been elected President. It would be lovely if his pledge to “make America great again” included a plan to make America’s 90,000 public schools great again by investing in equity.  Our public schools make up a system in which—with adequate funding and regulation—there would be the capacity to meet the needs and protect the rights of the 50 million children and adolescents enrolled.  We know instead that Trump has declared more charter schools and vouchers and Education Savings Accounts to be his priority.  We will have considerable time to explore the story of Trump’s education policy in the next weeks and months.

In the meantime, here are some quick state-by-state election updates that will directly impact public education. This blog provided background information about many of these issues here.

  • In Massachusetts, Question 2—that would have permitted the authorization of 12 new charter schools each year across the state—went down to resounding defeat.  The margin was 62.6 percent against the measure and only 37.4 percent in support.  The ballot issue had been opposed by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who worried that expanding charter schools would break the city’s budget and serve relatively few children at the expense of the public schools that serve the many.  In a press release, the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, explains: “Key to the defeat of Question 2 was the fact that charter schools—in Massachusetts and elsewhere—siphon funds from traditional school districts, undermining the quality of education provided to their students. In Massachusetts, the ‘Save Our schools’ campaign calculated that charter schools (in Massachusetts) will drain $450 million from public school systems next year, even without additional schools. Their assertion was strengthened by the release last week of a statement by Moody’s Investor Service finding that lifting the charter cap would have a ‘credit negative’ impact on three Massachusetts cities.”
  • In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal’s Amendment 1, a Constitutional amendment to permit a state takeover school district for so-called failing schools, went down by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.  The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools explains: “In this referendum, voters rejected the legislature’s request to change the Georgia State Constitution to allow the establishment of the Opportunity School District—a state takeover district.  While polling initially favored the Amendment, public mistrust grew as it became apparent that the State planned to turn the schools over to private charter management companies, removing them from local control permanently.”  Maureen Downey, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution describes “What voters apparently saw: Should the constitution be amended to allow the state to trample local control, seize local tax dollars and create a new bureaucracy to run schools deemed to be failing?  Georgians voted on four constitutional amendments…. Only Amendment 1 is losing. That tells me voters were aware of Deal’s state takeover plan. This cannot be seen as an accidental loss or the outcome of a befuddled electorate. This has to be seen as a conscious repudiation of what voters saw as a power grab by the state.”
  • Californians voted, by a 73 percent to 27 percent margin, to repeal the 1998 Proposition 227 that mandated English-only instruction across the state’s public schools.  Jazmine Ulloa for the Los Angeles Times explains: “Public schools in California will have more power to develop their own bilingual and multilingual programs…. Proposition 58… overhauls key parts of a 1998 law that requires students to take classes taught only in English…”  English-only instruction has been supported in California by Ron Unz, a venture capitalist, despite that academic research on language acquisition demonstrates conclusively that children who learn to read in their primary language and then transfer their reading skills to English become better readers.
  • Californians also voted to extend Proposition 30, a 2012 tax on the wealthiest Californians for another 12 years to support the state’s education budget.  Here is how California State Comptroller Betty T. Yee described Proposition 30 in June of 2016: “Approved by California voters in November 2012, Proposition 30 temporarily raised certain tax rates to provide additional financial support for public schools. Prop 30 revenues must be spent on classroom expenses and may not be used for administrative costs… Since January 1, 2012, Prop 30 has generated more than $31.2 billion.”
  • In Oklahoma, voters defeated Question 779, a 1 percent state sales tax that was to have been allocated for a $5,000 raise for school teachers. Tulsa World reports: “Of the money collected through the tax, 69.5 percent would have been allocated to common education, 19.25 percent to higher education, 8 percent to early childhood education and 3.25 percent to career tech. Of the 69.5 percent allocated to common education, 86.33 percent would have been used to increase teacher pay a minimum of $5,000 per person and to ‘otherwise address and prevent teacher and certified instructional staff shortages.'”
  • In Nevada, Democrats were elected to regain control of both houses of the legislature, replacing Republican majorities elected in 2014.  As voters overturned Republican super-majority government in Nevada this week, they are likely also to have prevented the re-emergence of the controversial Education Savings Account voucher program found unconstitutional in late September by Nevada’s state supreme court.  In its decision, the Nevada Supreme Court found the funding mechanism for the vouchers, not the vouchers themselves, in violation of state law.  Here is Sandra Chereb of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on the implications of this week’s sweep of the legislature by Democrats: “One likely casualty is the program approved by Republicans in 2015 to pay for tuition at private and religiously affiliated schools.  The program was ruled constitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court, but the funding mechanism was found invalid, requiring lawmakers to act. With majorities in both houses, Democrats are unlikely to support funding for the program.”
  • Three justices of the Washington state Supreme Court were re-elected on Tuesday despite smear campaigns designed to unseat them.  Members of the court have been under attack for insisting that the legislature come up with a plan for adequate funding of the state’s schools by the end of the 2017 legislative session.  And the same members of the court have been attacked for finding charter schools unconstitutional in Washington because, according to Valerie Strauss, “they are governed by appointed—rather than elected— boards and are therefore not ‘common schools’ eligible for state education funds.”  Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post Intelligencer describes Tuesday’s vote to re-elect the three besieged state justices: “Three Washington State Supreme Court justices won landslide re-election victories on Tuesday…. The high court has been under attack from the political right—and from the state’s technology billionaires—for its charter school ruling… and requiring that the Legislature come up with a plan to fully fund K-12 education.”
  • In Kansas, despite a huge campaign to unseat members of the state supreme court, four besieged justices were retained in Tuesday’s election.  Here is Sam Zeff from the statehouse report of radio station KCUR: “(A)ll four of the justices who had been targeted by the Republican Party, Kansans for Life and other conservative groups comfortably won retention… Kansans for Justice led the fight to fire the… four, raising more than half a million dollars to run ads saying they had improperly overturned a number of death penalty cases.  Conservatives also attacked the justices over rulings on abortion and school funding. In a statement Chief Justice Nuss, speaking for his colleagues, said voters put aside their political beliefs and backed a nonpartisan court. ‘The supreme court’s ability to make decisions based on the rule of law—and the people’s constitution—has been preserved,’ Nuss said.”