Good news for education reform
Certainly Election Day has proven to be a bloodbath for President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee. From the loss of senate seats in North Carolina, Iowa, Montana, and Colorado, to the defeats of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the usually-reliable Maryland and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's unexpected comeback victory, the president and his party now are now forced to deal with a revived Republican Party that will work hard to make the last two years of his tenure tougher than ever.
But for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which were expected to spend $80 million in an effort to defend its declining influence in education policy, the setbacks are even worse.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker won a second term over Mary Burke by a seven-point margin even after the NEA and AFT (along with other public-sector union allies) vigorously propped up the Democratic gubernatorial nominee;s campaign. As it turned out, the NEA's and AFT's arguments that Walker's successful effort to end collective bargaining and forced dues collections were terrible for teachers and other public-sector employees fell upon deaf ears. Walker's fellow Republicans in the legislature will also retain control, which bodes well for expanding the state's voucher program and other school choice efforts.
In Michigan, Rick Snyder beat the NEA- and AFT-backed Mark Schauer by a four-point margin. As with Walker, the NEA's and AFT's arguments against Snyder's school reform efforts — including ending the ability of the two unions to force teachers into becoming members — also didn't resonate with either teachers or the rest of the public. Thanks to the victory, along with keeping control of the legislature in the hands of his fellow Republicans, Snyder will have another four years to advance other key reforms — including further expanding the Wolverine State's inter-district choice program
Then there is Rhode Island, where State Treasurer Gina Raimondo won a first term as governor in spite of opposition from the NEA earlier this year over her successful push to replace the state's virtually-insolvent defined-benefit plan with a hybrid plan featuring defined-contribution elements. Without having to repay the NEA for their support, Raimondo has a free hand to back the reforms being undertaken by Supt. Deborah Gist, which, like Raimondo's pension reforms, don't make the union all that happy.
And let's not forget Bruce Rauner, the private-equity fund boss who defeated incumbent Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to become the Land of Lincoln's next chief executive. Rauner's victory is especially embarrassing for the AFT. After all, the union's president, Randi Weingarten, went barnstorming for Quinn even as its affiliate, along with that of the NEA, are suing to stop implementation of the modest pension improvement plan Quinn successfully passed last year. Now the two unions face a governor who can work with a state legislature likely willing to go further on addressing a teachers' pension insolvency of $76 billion, according to Dropout Nation's latest analysis.
But these aren't the only defeats for the NEA and AFT. In Florida, Rick Scott, who found enough backbone during his first term to pass a teacher evaluation overhaul (before backing down on passing a Parent Trigger law and other measures) managed to win a second term despite intense opposition from the two unions. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich — who has backed Common Core against opposition from movement conservatives as well as backed Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's reform initiatives (to the annoyance of the two unions) — won in a landslide. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who successfully back a referendum giving the Peach State the ability to authorize charter schools, gets a second term. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy will likely win re-election after forcing the AFT (through the AFL-CIO's state branch there) to back his run — two years after passing a modest overhaul package both it (along with the NEA affiliate there) strongly opposed. And in New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was snubbed by the AFT's New York State affiliate earlier this year, now has a freer hand to take on the union and other traditionalists thanks to his re-election victory.