Charter Schools

Charter Schools, Teachers Unions Both End Up Winners at the Polls

Reforms to teaching rules fail, but voters see increased interest in education alternatives


Not an indicator of teacher performance

Californians swallowed Gov. Jerry Brown's extortion scheme tax measure Tuesday, handing him a 54 to 46 percent win on Proposition 30. The proposition increases income tax on earners over $250,000 a year for seven years and sales tax on everybody by a quarter of a cent for four years.

It's a win for the teachers unions because the revenue will temporarily deflect the state and school districts from having to face the hard task of addressing the growing public employee pension crisis. The money from the measure is earmarked for schools (though this doesn't stop the state legislature from cutting education money elsewhere, so the earmark doesn't mean much).

Whether the proposition's passage is kicking the can down the road or off a fiscal cliff remains to be seen. The ballot measure is projected to bring in $6 billion in revenue. The problem, though, is that the state hasn't exactly done well with projecting revenue. In May, Bloomberg reported the state's income tax revenues for the year were $3.1 billion less than projected. And that was right before the state revealed its deficit to be around $16 billion, not $9 billion as had been reported.

(Also, I was wrong, and am very confused about it, predicting Brown would get hammered over high-speed-rail spending in ads leading up to the election. I heard nary a peep about it and have no idea why.)

In Idaho, teachers unions chalked up another victory, using the referendum process to block the implementation of legislation that required teacher evaluations to measure student performance, eliminated tenure, restricted collective bargaining and introduced merit bonuses, among many other changes. One of the bills also gave all students laptops and mandated students take two semester-long online courses to graduate.

It is perhaps possible the Idaho legislature tried to tackle too much in one session. That's a lot of power-shifting to convince parents to accept. A very similar education reform referendum in South Dakota also failed badly.

But voters also seem inclined to want to give parents alternatives to those pension-hoarding, responsibility-dodging public educators. In Georgia, voters handily approved Measure 1, which gives the state the authority to overrule school districts and allow the creation of charter schools. As charter school lovers (and haters) know, school districts (and unionized educators) have a stake in blocking charter school approval because the money follows the students. So even when the state has a mechanism for creating charter schools, the veto power often given to districts can be used to shut them down. In Georgia, rejected school districts will be able to petition the state for approval.

In Washington State, a proposition to allow the creation of 40 charter schools (they currently have none) is narrowly winning, but there's still quite a few votes to count according to the Washington Secretary of State's results site.  This is the fourth time the state has voted on allowing charter schools. They're one of only eight states that still do not allow them.