Voters and education

What the midterms tell us about education policy:
[C]onservatives . . . ought not be afraid of school reform. Three GOP governors were hammered [before the election] for having supposedly cut education spending. Now, you need to be a forensic accountant to determine the truth of such claims (e.g., Do increased contributions to teacher pensions count? How does one score 2011 stimulus dollars? Is the measure total spending or per-pupil spending?). In any event, two of the embattled candidates — Rick Scott in Florida and Sam Brownback in Kansas — went on to triumph despite fierce union attacks. Tom Corbett lost in Pennsylvania, but he had plenty of other troubles and was left for dead months ago.
In fact, while 20 of 35 Republican gubernatorial candidates touted increased K–12 spending as part of their platform, it’s not clear that voters are convinced that more spending is the ticket to better schools. In Harry Reid’s Nevada, a ballot measure to boost school spending by raising corporate taxes went down to a crushing defeat. A year ago, a billion-dollar spending plan for schools crashed and burned in similarly purple Colorado. And deep-blue Washington state rejected an initiative to decrease class size by hiring more teachers.
Meanwhile, the results should encourage conservatives ready to fight for principled reform. Scott Walker won for the third time in four years in purple Wisconsin in the face of relentless union opposition for daring to curtail collective bargaining, tackle public pensions, and promote school choice. Rick Snyder in Michigan won with a similar résumé, and John Kasich roared to victory in Ohio after having fought similar fights. These are all industrial Midwest swing states where conservatives can find themselves inclined to step gently. Oh, and Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina house, was targeted by a flood of negative ads for his role in the state’s hugely controversial move to eliminate teacher tenure and stop paying teachers for advanced degrees. For all that, Tillis still managed to oust favorite Kay Hagan.

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