With the focus firmly on the Presidential and Senatorial elections throughout the country, it was easy to overlook the fact that this week voters were also coming to the ballot box to weigh in on some very important education-related questions. Now that the concession and victory speeches have been made, it is time to take stock of who won and lost when it comes to the battle over education-related measures and propositions.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the teachers unions have come away as the biggest winners from Tuesday night. The most significant trophy came in Indiana, where union efforts to oust State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett bore fruit as Bennett lost his bid for reelection for a second term.
Bennett, a Republican, had emerged as a national leader in the bipartisan education reform movement. He pushed to grade schools and teachers by their students' test scores. 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.
Although Bennett enjoyed a fund-raising advantage over his Democratic opponent Glenda Ritz, who relied mostly on the unions to finance her campaign, her message that Bennett was placing too much focus on standardized tests resonated with 54% of the electorate — more than enough to put her into office.
The day wasn't without setbacks. The union-backed effort to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution failed to pass, along with two charter school measures in Georgia and Washington State, which were strongly opposed by the union membership. In Washington, opponents of the charter school measure were outspent nearly 15 to 1, with money supporting the measure coming in from donors friendly to school choice such as the Gates Foundation and Alice Walton, among others.
Still, the victories that were achieved were important and numerous.
The unions did what they needed to do. They helped re-elect the President and they brought to a halt any momentum there may have been for more serious and wide-ranging threats to their power base. They defeated hostile ballot measures in California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan and South Dakota, and were even able to put a tax hike over the top in the Golden State. There will be no mass movement into voucher systems, merit pay, tenure reform and collective bargaining limits. Those are big wins.