Friday, November 05, 2010


In States, GOP Winners Mapping Course for K-12

By Sean Cavanagh | Education Week |

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at his victory party in Buda, Texas, on Nov. 2.  —LM Otero/AP

November 5, 2010 - The big incoming crop of Republican governors and state lawmakers will inherit bleak conditions for funding school programs and face potentially vexing decisions about whether to pursue the ambitious education proposals crafted by their predecessors, often with bipartisan support.

Many of those victorious GOP candidates campaigned on time-tested conservative platforms, emphasizing a return to local control over education and resistance to what they see as state and federal overreach.

But they will also take office during a dynamic time for education policy.

Many states have pursued major changes to policies for charter schools, teacher evaluation, and other areas over the past two years, with backing from both Democrats and Republicans. States across the country have also agreed to adopt common academic standards and to use federal dollars to pursue bold school improvement efforts through the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, financed through the 2009 federal economic-stimulus package.

Whether the new state leaders are willing and able to upend those agreements and coalitions remains unclear.

Before the midterm elections, “governors were out there talking about issues like teacher evaluation, and they got a lot of buy-in,” said Judith Rizzo, the executive director of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, a Durham, N.C.-based group that has helped states in their adoption and implementation of common standards. Newly elected officials, she suggested, might find it politically difficult to take recently approved policies in a different direction.

“It would be pretty hard to say, ‘Well, we used to think teacher evaluation was important, but we don’t think it is anymore,’ ” Ms. Rizzo said. “People can roll back anything, but they’re going to have to articulate their reasons to abandon commitments that were made by a whole bunch of well-intentioned people.”

Election 2010: Interactive Maps

Governors & State Schools Chiefs

This interactive map details the 37 gubernatorial and seven state superintendents races on the ballot and where the leading candidates stand on education issues.

Election-Related Ballot Measures

K-12 funding issues directly or indirectly dominate education-related state ballot measures around the country this election year. This map shows some of the prominent measures.

Election Aftershocks

As was the case in this year’s congressional races, the GOP had been expected to make major headway in state-level contests, and the Nov. 2 results bore that prediction out.

In addition to winning most of the governorships on the ballot this week, Republicans achieved historic gains in state legislative chambers, where lawmakers wield significant power over school budgets and policy. Those new state legislators will work with newly elected governors who in some cases campaigned on promises to scale back or scrap Democrats’ education proposals.

One such candidate was Ohio’s Republican governor-elect, former U.S. Rep. John Kasich, who defeated Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland, after criticizing his education agenda as bureaucratic and expensive.

In Georgia, former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat who made education a centerpiece of his campaign, lost his bid to return to that office to the GOP’s Nathan Deal, a former congressman. And the Republican tide carried through Iowa, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Chet Culver was ousted by former four-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who campaigned against his rival’s statewide voluntary preschool program. Mr. Branstad called instead for targeted education support for families.

While vowing in his victory speech to set about “restoring the best education in this country for our kids,” Mr. Branstad also said he would control spending. He promised “a smaller government that is lean, frugal, and [as] efficient as the people we serve.”

In Texas, meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has been one of the most vocal critics of recent federal education spending, turned back former Houston Mayor Bill White after a surprisingly tough campaign. Mr. White, a Democrat, had accused the governor of making an enemy of the federal government for political gain.

Democrats bucked the trend in the nation’s most populous state, California, where former Gov. Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman, the former chief executive officer of eBay, who had drawn the opposition of state affiliates of a pair of unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Mr. Brown said he would revamp the state’s testing system, which he says is antiquated and does not help guide instruction.

Changes Ahead

The winners will come into power as states are taking significant steps to revamp education policy. Forty states and the District of Columbia, for instance, have agreed so far to adopt common academic standards in English/language arts and mathematics through the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led effort to create demanding, uniform academic goals. While that initiative has drawn bipartisan support from governors and state legislators, it has received criticism from some state officials and education advocates who worry about a loss of state and local control over curriculum.

Similar worries have been raised by some officials about the federal Race to the Top program, even though many of its goals appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. That federal program, a high-profile Obama administration initiative, has awarded $4 billion in competitive grants for state education reform proposals.

While newly elected GOP state leaders could try to “peel off the process” of implementing common standards and Race to the Top plans, many of them will be inclined to leave the core intact, said Kevin Carey, the policy director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank. That’s partly because governors and state lawmakers from both parties have argued that significant changes to school policy are necessary to promote academic achievement and job growth, he said, and many elected officials believe common standards and the improvement steps being taken under the Race to the Top fit those goals.

“There’s a danger that an effort to retreat from Race to the Top and common standards could be seen as bad, from an economic-development standpoint,” Mr. Carey said.

A total of 37 states held governors’ races on Nov. 2, and even with two contests still undecided as of this morning, Republicans had made clear gains. Of the governorships in contention, 19 were held by Democrats going into the midterm elections, while 18 were held by Republicans.

The most recent tally showed that GOP candidates had won at least 23 of the governorships on the ballot and Democrats only 11. One independent, former Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, won that state’s governor’s race. Contests were still in play in Connecticut and Minnesota.

The winning governors in some cases will be working with legislatures that have a new balance of political power. More than 6,000 state legislative races were on the ballot. Going into the elections, Democrats controlled 60 legislative chambers, Republicans had 36, and two were evenly split. The 2010 elections leave Republicans in control of at least 55 lawmaking chambers across the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan research organization in Denver. The GOP will hold about 3,890, or 53 percent, of the total legislative seats nationwide, the NCSL estimates, the largest number of seats in the Republican column since 1928.

“The Republican wave in the states is perhaps even stronger than it is at the federal level,” said Tim Storey, a senior legislative fellow at the NCSL.

Meanwhile, seven states held elections for state schools superintendent, with Republican winning all six partisan races on the ballot.

In most states, the winners’ postelection euphoria is likely to fade when they delve into the states’ budget books. At least 46 states faced budget shortfalls headed into fiscal 2011, said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization in Washington.

“It’s going to be difficult governing,” Mr. Storey said. “It’s going to take a whole lot for us to pull out of the depths we’re in.”

Given the nation’s slow recovery from the deep recession, education was “really overwhelmed by the economic anxieties the voters had,” Mr. Storey said. But now victorious candidates will be forced to make hard decisions about K-12 spending, he said, given its large share of state budgets.

The midterm elections played out amid an unprecedented flow of federal emergency education spending to the states. Much of that money arrived courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the federal stimulus, which provided some $100 billion in education funding. This past summer, Congress supplemented that with an additional $10 billion through the Education Jobs Fund, a measure designed to stave off thousands of layoffs in the nation’s schools.

The infusion of cash from Washington was criticized by some conservatives, who complained that it gives federal officials too much sway over state and local school policy. For instance, in Texas, Gov. Perry refused to have his state apply for one program funded through the recovery act, Race to the Top, though it has accepted billions of dollars in stimulus aid, including money for education.

In other states, Race to the Top appears to have had a major influence on education agendas. Eleven states, plus the District of Columbia, won grants through the program. A total of 34 states across the country approved new education laws or policies during the course of the competition, federal officials say. Many of those changes, such as expanding charter schools and creating new models to evaluate and pay teachers, have bipartisan appeal. ("Ambitious Race to Top Plans Put School Districts on Spot," October 13, 2010.)

Seven of the 11 winning Race to the Top states will have new governors. Another winner, the District of Columbia, will have a new mayor, Vincent C. Gray, who ousted incumbent Adrian M. Fenty in the city’s Democratic primary and won the general election. The impact of those leadership changes is uncertain.

In Ohio, Gov.-elect Kasich had lambasted Gov. Strickland’s education funding and policy agenda during the campaign. But Mr. Strickland argued that gutting his schools plan would imperil Race to the Top funding. Doing so “could put in serious jeopardy our receiving these resources,” the Democrat said at a forum hosted by the Dayton Daily News, because “we would not have met the obligations and the commitments that we put forth in our application.”

In Florida, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, who lost narrowly to Republican Rick Scott, had been a strong backer of her state’s winning, $700 million Race to the Top blueprint, which calls for increased graduation rates and for school districts to develop merit-pay plans, among other steps. By contrast, Gov.-elect Scott had vowed to “refuse temporary funding from the federal government that creates permanent spending in Florida” in his economic plan, while not referring specifically to the Race to the Top.

It seems unlikely the GOP winner will oppose Florida’s implementation of its plan, given its focus, said Daniel A. Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.

“It appeals to conservatives, and they’re going to need those dollars,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Carey, of Education Sector, a former state school budget official in Indiana, agreed that the dire condition of state economies could solidify the status of the Race to the Top and common-standards efforts, because those programs are supported with federal money. (Some state and local officials have said implementing the Race to the Top will require additional, nonfederal spending.)

Mr. Carey was skeptical of the idea that states would change their Race to the Top proposals in ways that jeopardize millions of dollars in grant funding. He noted that many states had threatened to fight the No Child Left Behind Act, only to back away at the prospect of losing federal funding.

“Everybody cashed the check in the end,” he said.

Assistant Editors Catherine Gewertz and Erik W. Robelen contributed to this article.


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GOP Gains Could Prompt Federal Funding, Policy Shifts

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio celebrates a GOP victory that changes the balance of power in Congress and will likely elevate him to speaker of the House, during an election night gathering hosted by the National Republican Congressional Committee on Nov. 2 in Washington. —Cliff Owen/AP

By Alyson Klein | Education Week |

Published Online: November 3, 2010 - Republicans seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives and significantly bolstered their majorities in the Senate in Tuesday’s election, an outcome that will almost certainly mean an end to emergency education aid to states and will heighten pressure for a more limited federal role in K-12 policy.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House minority leader who is likely to become the speaker of the House, said in an election-night speech that Republicans will “take a new approach that hasn’t been tried before in Washington—by either party. It starts with cutting spending instead of increasing it. Reducing the size of government instead of expanding it.”

That’s likely to mean a move toward less federal involvement in education policy, which expanded under the Bush administration and the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, analysts said.

It’s also likely to lead to leadership changes under the new House majority. For example, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who is now the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, is in line to become chairman of the panel, although final decisions about committee leadership won’t be made before Congress convenes a lame-duck session later this month.

Some Democratic incumbents who have sought to influence K-12 policy—including some who had opposed expansive federal initiatives—lost their seats on Tuesday.

Among them was Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who was defeated by businessman Ron Johnson. Sen. Feingold was one of just a handful of lawmakers to vote against the NCLB law, the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, back in 2001. Since then, he’s introduced a series of bills aimed at giving districts more flexibility in implementing the law, and scaling back the law’s reliance on standardized tests.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, lost to her Republican challenger, former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. Rep. Shea-Porter has also criticized the NCLB law, particularly its emphasis on standardized testing. Mr. Guinta pledged to rein in spending.

And in Illinois, Rep. Phil Hare, a Democrat and a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, who tends to look out for rural schools, was defeated by Bobby Schilling, a pizza restaurant owner, who wants to allow states to opt out of the NCLB law’s accountability requirements.

In Florida, Marco Rubio, the GOP candidate and former state house speaker, beat Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat, and Gov. Charlie Crist, who ran as an independent. Gov. Crist embraced federal economic-stimulus funding, and he vetoed a bill that would have made it easier to fire teachers and linked their pay to student test scores. That helped him earn the endorsement of the state’s teachers’ union. Mr. Rubio wants to boost school choice by offering scholarships to low-income students in failing schools, and he wants to see existing Head Start grant funds be used to fund prekindergarten scholarships for low-income children.

And at least one successful contender backed by the tea party movement, Republican Rand Paul, who won a Senate seat in Kentucky, has even gone so far as saying he wants to scrap the U.S. Department of Education.

But the Democrats were able to gain a victory in Delaware, where Chris Coons, the New Castle County executive, beat GOP nominee Christine O’Donnell, who was backed by tea party activists. Mr. Coons is a member of the board of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, which worked on the state’s winning bid for a slice of the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund.

Ms. O’Donnell won a surprise victory over Rep. Mike Castle, a Republican, in the GOP primary. Rep. Castle has a long record of bringing the two parties together to make progress on K-12 issues, and his defeat disappointed many K-12 advocates.

And Democrats prevailed in Connecticut, where Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic attorney general who sued the federal government over NCLB, beat Linda McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive officer, for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Democrats were expected to hold onto the Senate, though a number of races were still close as of deadline early this morning. Those included the Colorado Senate race, in which Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, former Denver schools chief, and a key ally of the Obama administration on education issues, was up against Ken Buck, an attorney backed by the tea party who has said he wants to eliminate the federal Education Department.

The fate of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was also uncertain. Sen. Murray has championed education funding and has introduced a comprehensive literacy bill. Her Republican opponent, businessman Dino Rossi, wants to crack down on spending.

In another pivotal race, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, fended off a challenge from tea party favorite Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee, who also has said she wants to see the department scrapped.

Spending Concerns

Spending was also a major issue this election season in both state and federal contests.

Republican congressional candidates continually attacked Democratic incumbents for supporting the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal economic-stimulus program, which provided some $100 billion for education.

Only three Republicans ultimately voted for the package, and one of them, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, subsequently switched parties.

In a “Pledge to America” outlining their governance plan, House GOP leaders said they would like to return federal spending to fiscal 2008 levels, before Congress approved the stimulus and the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a rescue package for Wall Street.

Still unclear is the specific education policy direction the new majority might take in the House.

Mr. Boehner served as chairman of the House education committee back in 2001, and he worked closely with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who at the time was the top Democrat on the committee. The two shepherded NCLB through the House, where it garnered overwhelming bipartisan support.

Rep. Kline said in an interview earlier this fall that he’s skeptical of the administration’s $350 million program aimed at helping states develop common, richer assessments. He wants to ensure that it doesn’t become a situation in which the Education Department is involved in creating the tests.

The Obama administration also asked for $1.35 billion in the fiscal 2011 budget to continue the Race to the Top program, a key administration priority born of the stimulus program, for an additional year and extend it to districts. Rep. Kline said in the interview that he wouldn’t support that. He thinks the program was too rigid and imposed federal policy preferences on states.

But there are also issues on which Rep. Kline says he sees eye-to-eye with the administration, such as the need to encourage the proliferation of high-quality charter schools.

And Rep. Kline and Rep. Miller’s staff have been holding regular discussions on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act throughout the summer and fall with the aim of laying the groundwork for a bipartisan reauthorization.

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