(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Election coverage inevitably drifts to beltway drama, but I’m at more than a bit of a loss to understand why. It’s kind of like the nation’s bizarre fascination with 32 football teams running the same offense and defense when a far more interesting and gloriously chaotic brand of football rumbles along in the colleges. My memory gets fuzzy trying to remember the last positive and interesting thing to happen in DC. The action in America is out in the states.
Longtime Jayblog readers will doubtlessly recall the world-famous bet between our own Greg and WaPo columnist Jay Mathews regarding whether parental choice programs were just too politically difficult. They eventually decided to put the over/under for new school choice programs or expansions in 2011 at 7, with the loser picking up dinner.
I can’t remember whether the total got to 21 that year or not. If not, it was close. The school choice movement easily cleared the bar again in 2012. Then in 2013, it was time for a three-peat! Finally in 2014, the pace slowed a bit nationally in an election year and the Forster-Mathews bar proved too high.
Only time will ultimately tell, but the elections of 2014 must look pretty bleak if you are burdened in life with reactionary K-12 preferences. Scott Walker for instance not only just won his third statewide election in four years, he’s talking about expanding school vouchers into new districts and providing choice to children with disabilities. Arizona Governor-elect Doug Ducey stated in his victory speech “Schools and choices open to some parents should be open to all parents.”
Out in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated
Republican, Independent Democrat Charlie Crist in an epic battle. It did not escape the notice of some that the tight margin could have been swayed by the parents of the parents of the near 100,000 children participating in Florida’s private choice programs this year.
In Indiana, Republicans added to their already large legislative majorities and the same thing basically happened in Ohio. A few years ago, an observer of Nevada politics told me that the map of Nevada House were drawn such that a Democratic majority would live at least as long as the current map. Well lo and behold, Gov. Sandoval gets reelected with 70% of the vote and the Republicans capture both chambers.
The WaPo produced this handy map:
This same article notes that Republicans hold unified control over both chambers and the chief executive in 24 states compared to 6 for the Democrats.
Don’t ignore Blue states however. Out in New York, easily reelected Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed public support for tuition tax credits. From the linked story:
Mr. Cuomo echoed the assemblyman’s call for the passage of the Education Investment Tax Credit, which would help parents pay for religious schools–which the governor compared to his expansion of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to cover yeshivas and his public funding of busing for students of Orthodox Jewish schools. Mr. Cuomo claimed such funding is simply equitable and right.
“It’s not charity, it’s not a favor. It’s justice. TAP. Public transportation and the school buses, that was justice. Education tax credit–this is a matter of justice,” he said as the crowd broke into applause. “I want you to understand that’s the way I see it. On a personal level, this is a very important relationship that I honor. And as governor, I have sworn to do justice. And there have been a number of great injustices that your community has endured for a long, long time. And it is my profound wish that we should work together and we should resolve them and bring justice to the community that we deserve.”
This is welcome news, as the private choice movement has made very limited progress overall in the mega-states of California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois aka where a whole bunch of the kids are located. Charter schools however are rolling along in all of those states, and they seem poised to crush private schools at a much higher rate than low-performing district schools. Even Florida’s nearing 100,000 private choice children in private choice programs seems small when viewed in this fashion. The Illinois $500 personal use tax credit comes across as a bit of a cruel joke when put into this context: the state will lavish many thousands of (increasingly hard to come by) dollars on you if you choose to attend a district or charter school, but will give you a $500 tax break if you choose to bear the financial burden of sending your child to a private school if you have a sufficient tax liability.
The Illinois credit may only be a small step in reducing double payment penalty, but it is more than California, New York or Texas has done to date while charters continue to surge. In the end, private schools ought not to be preserved by nostalgic state lawmakers, but rather (if it is going to happen) by the free choice of parents operating on something approaching a level financial playing field. We need both broader and better designed account-based programs.
Finally choice proponents need to be aware that even seemingly shiny legislative majorities spring on you like a bear trap if you mistake them for an actual consensus. Proponents must never forget the need to persuade a broader universe of opinion leaders and the public regarding the justice of their cause.
Okay so with all that said, I will take the over in 2015. What about you?
UPDATE PART DEUX:
“We knew this was going to be an uphill battle,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. “But I don’t think anybody on our side, and we’ve got some very savvy people, anticipated going over the falls like this. Tectonic plates have shifted. And we’re going to have to come back with a new way of organizing for these kinds of races.”
“The surprising thing is you now have Democrats who are willing to buck the union,” said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who contributed to Democratic and Republican candidates around the country who want to introduce more choice and competition in public education, and greater accountability for teachers. “You can take reform positions and be successful not only in general elections, but in primaries. It’s a major sea change in the Democratic party that you can now oppose the union and be successful.”