A baker’s dozen of races that matter to education

There’s a lot at stake for public education in the 2012 elections including and well beyond the presidential choice. Seats on state boards of education are being contested in nine states, and there are gubernatorial races in eight states where governors appoint school board members, Education Week reports. About one-sixth of the approximately 600 state board seats could change as a result of the elections, it said. Four states are voting on state schools superintendents, numerous states have ballot initiatives on a variety of topics, and there are a number of education-related races for the U.S. House and Senate. (Ed Week has a complete education voting guide here.)

Here are 13 races to watch around the country in Tuesday’s election that will affect public education:

1) In Florida, voters will decide whether to drop from the state constitution language in the Blaine Amendment that prohibits the use of state funds at religious institutions. This would lead the way to a statewide voucher program.

2) In Georgia, voters will decide whether to approve a state commission that would have the authority to approve new charter schools over the objections of local school boards.

3) In Washington, voters will decide whether to allow charter schools to open across the state.They have rejected the idea three times since 2004.

4) In Texas, voters will vote for all 15 seats on the state Board of Education, which made national news in recent years with ideology battles over curriculum. The board now has 11 Republicans and four Democrats.

5) Maryland voters will decide whether to ratify the state’s version of the federal Dream Act that allows certain undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition at public universities. It would apply only to those students who have applied for a green card, graduated from a Maryland community college, have no criminal record and whose families have paid state income tax.

6) Idaho voters will decide whether to overturn the “Luna laws,” three school reform laws named for state schools Superintendent Tom Luna that mandate reforms including linking at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to student standardized test scores, ending teacher tenure, limiting collective bargaining rights, instituting merit pay for teachers based on test scores and requiring all high school students take two online courses.

7) In Indiana, voters will decide whether to keep schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, who has pushed an aggressive agenda of privatization of public education, including charters and vouchers. He is running against veteran educator Glenda Ritz.

8) In Minnesota, voters in the Twin Cities district will decide whether to keep Rep. John Kline in the House, where he is chairman of the education committee. Kline wrote budget proposals that among other things mandated school districts to link teacher evaluation to standardized test scores and limited the federal role in public education. He is running against Democrat Mike Obermueller, an attorney and former state lawmaker.

9) In Illinois, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a veteran of the House education committee, is a Republican who has been endorsed by the National Education Association, the largest union in the country, because she has rejected her party’s stance on key school reform initiatives, including vouchers. Her Democratic opponent is former congressman Bill Foster, who backed President Obama’s economic stimulus law, which provided funds to save the jobs of thousands of teachers around the country. Biggert opposed the stimulus.

10) In California, voters will decide whether to approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which calls for a $6-billion-a-year tax hike to fund things including public education. There is also a competing initiative, Proposition 38, funded by the daughter of a billionaire, which would raise $10 billion a year for public schools by raising income taxes.

11) In New Orleans, voters will select who should represent District 3 of the Orleans Parish school board. Though the parish operates fewer than 20 schools in the city (where most of the schools are charter schools run by the Recovery School District), the election has attracted big money from outside the state in support of Sarah Newell Usdin, one of the city’s most prominent charter school backers. She is running against Karran Harper Royal, a public school parent in New Orleans and advocate for special education students, and incumbent Brett Bonin, a lawyer. Usdin is a Democrat, Bonin a Republican, and Royal has no party affiliation. Bonin and Royal say the integrity of local control is at stake.

12) In Michigan, voters will decide whether to guarantee in the state constitution the right of unions — including teachers unions –  to organize and collectively bargain. The move would ban laws that limit a union’s ability to collect fees from nonunion workers. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder opposes the measure.

13) In Missouri, voters will decide whether to raise the state tobacco tax with most of the increased revenue going to help public schools at the elementary, secondary and higher education levels.

 And, of course, the presidential contest matters big-time. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney differ on key elements of policy. Obama thinks the federal government has a big role to play in public education; Romney doesn’t. Romney supports the use of public dollars to pay tuition at religious/private schools; Obama doesn’t. A Romney victory would likely mean that the pace of privatization of public education would move faster than it would under Obama.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | November 6, 2012