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Teachers' Unions Win Big on Election Day

by Michael Higham, published

Teachers Union Election Day

Teachers' Unions Election Day included important victories across the country. California's Prop 30 passed and Prop 32 failed. South Dakota, Idaho, and Michigan defeated unfavorable education laws. Indiana's incumbent State Superintendent was unseated by a union-supported challenger.

Education issues sometimes fall within party lines. Republican and Indiana's incumbent State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett lost to 33-year Indianapolis teacher Glenda Ritz. Bennett has been credited with the most ambitious school reform agenda of any state. Reuters summarizes his work:

He gave middle-income families vouchers to pay tuition at private and parochial schools. He seized control of struggling public schools, then turned them over to private managers, including a for-profit company based in Florida. And he required 9-year-olds to pass a reading test before earning promotion to fourth grade.

Fordham Institute Vice President Michael Petrilli says Bennett's work was, "the most aggressive reform agenda in the country, and you might say that voters thought things were going too far, too fast."

Bennett outspent Ritz by $1 million total in the 2012 election season. Bennett's defeat was largely unexpected  Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz will have to work with Republican dominated Legislature in Indiana and a school board which has supported Bennett's school reform measures.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown's education tax initiative, Prop 30, passed which raises income tax rates for earners over $250,000 for seven years. State sales tax will also rise by 0.25 percent for four years. The revenues generated will displace a $5.85 billion budget cut from education (K-12, community college, and universities combined) that would have went through if the initiative failed. By October 30, teachers unions and organizations contributed over $15 million to the Yes campaign.

California's Prop 32 would have banned union collected paycheck deductions from political activity. The measure would arguably create an imbalance in political influence in California. By Nov 1, Over $24 million was spent on the No campaign by teachers organizations.

Idaho and South Dakota rejected merit-based pay that relied on test score increases. Reuters stated:

The laws would have phased out tenure and offered bonuses to teachers who raised student test scores. Advocates of merit pay say it will spur teachers to work harder, but many teachers decry it as insulting and ineffective.

Idaho also rejected a measure that would have limited collective bargaining rights for teachers. Teachers unions assisted the rejection with $3 million.

Michigan rejected a measure that would have allowed a state appointment of a school manager for under-performing school districts. Appointed school managers would likely turn the district into privatized schools ran by for-profit companies.

Election Day wasn't perfect for teachers unions. Michigan also rejected a state measure that would have guaranteed collective bargaining rights. Georgia approved a measure for a state commission to oversee the school chartering process. Washington narrowly passed a ballot measure authorizing charter schools in the state.

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