Schooled Reporting on education

Education reforms largely fail midterms

Education | School funding became a rallying cry this spring but had mixed results at the ballot box Tuesday
by Leigh Jones
Posted 11/07/18, 05:26 pm

Education played a much smaller role than expected in Tuesday’s midterm elections following teacher strikes this year. Activists hoped a pro-education wave would wash over state capitols and, in some cases, governors’ mansions. But the advocacy championed by teachers unions had mixed results.

They scored their biggest win in Wisconsin, where Democratic education chief Tony Evers ousted incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker, whose right-to-work policies made him enemy No. 1 for the unions. Educators also helped influence the gubernatorial race in Kansas, where they favored Democrat Laura Kelly, who won out over Republican Kris Kobach. Education policy analyst Rick Hess with the American Enterprise Institute called those two victories significant for teacher unions and activists.

But states that saw the most teacher-related activism last spring didn’t see a so-called “education wave.” In Oklahoma, where teachers lobbied for and got an increase in education funding, Republican Kevin Stitt defeated Democrat Drew Edmondson, who promised to raise taxes to increase teacher pay. Teachers unions also failed to oust Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who became a foil for activist teachers during that state’s strikes. Ducey eventually backed raises for teachers, but opponents said he should have done more to advocate for education funding. Teachers unions backed Ducey’s Democratic opponent, professor and education policy analyst David Garcia.

While a majority of Arizona voters opted to support Ducey’s plan to increase education funding while cutting taxes—a seemingly difficult task—they struck down a school choice measure he supported. Public school advocates challenged a legislature-approved plan to expand education savings accounts to all students, collecting enough signatures earlier this year to get a repeal initiative on Tuesday’s ballot. The measure would have created the most expansive school choice program in the country.

Colorado teachers also rallied this spring, shutting down some of the state’s largest districts for several days to protest low classroom funding. They insisted the state needed to raise taxes on the wealthy to generate more money for education. Tuesday’s ballot included a referendum that would have done just that, raising an estimated $1.6 billion. Colorado voters rejected it.

“Education matters the most when both parties are trying to play to the middle,” Hess said during a Wednesday morning post-election forum. “And this was not an election about running to the center. It was about energizing the base.”

When it comes to national education policy, the new House-Senate party divide in Washington could result in two years of lawmaking gridlock. But Lanae Erickson, a policy analyst with the left-leaning think tank Third Way, said Republicans and Democrats might find some common ground on higher education reforms. Issues like accountability for colleges and universities and student loan reforms have enough universal appeal that they could at least unite moderates from both parties.

“A bunch of different kinds of groups have interests here,” she said. “It’s a Rubik’s cube you might be able to move around.”

Other reforms championed by President Donald Trump, including Title IX regulations involving campus sexual assaults and gender identity, along with any kind of federal school choice initiative, are likely dead on arrival.

Erickson predicted news reports over the next two years will most often refer to the Education Department as “embattled,” with Secretary Betsy DeVos getting called to Capitol Hill more often than during her first two years on the job.

At the state level, Aaliyah Samuel with the National Governors Association said post-election policy reforms likely will focus on the intersection of education, workforce, and the economy: “Bipartisan areas of agreement are a good place to start with governors.”

Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in Seattle in June

Education philanthropy or early recruiting plan?

Earlier this year, Jeff Bezos announced plans to pour $2 billion into preschool programs across the country. Now the Amazon founder is opening his wallet again to teach older kids how to do computer coding. The Amazon Future Engineer program, launched last week, is part of a commitment Bezos made to spend $50 million on computer science education. Although he hasn’t said how much the coding initiative will cost, it’s expected to take up the bulk of that pledge.

The program will include summer camps and after-school programs for elementary and middle school students at Amazon offices across the country. It also includes plans to train 2,000 high school teachers in low-income neighborhoods. The company wants to reach students from families who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to learn computer coding. The biggest bonus could be networking: Amazon plans to actively recruit from the Future Engineer classes. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Santiago Flores/South Bend Tribune Associated Press/Photo by Santiago Flores/South Bend Tribune Emergency personnel responding to a bus accident in Rochester, Ind., that killed three children

Indiana mulls school bus cameras after fatal crash

Three children died last week in Indiana after a 24-year-old woman drove her truck around a school bus stopped to let them get on. She’s one of more than 3,000 people known to have driven around a school bus with its stop-arm out this year in Indiana. Although that’s illegal, drivers rarely face penalties because a police officer must witness the violation to write a ticket. The solution? Equip every bus with an external video camera. Drivers caught passing a stopped bus will get a ticket in the mail. Lawmakers tried to get the cameras approved before, but concerns over privacy stymied the effort. Supporters hope last week’s tragedy will prompt opponents to reconsider. —L.J.

That’s a wrap

The much-anticipated, two-week discrimination trial over Harvard University’s admissions process ended last week, but don’t expect a decision any time soon. U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs might issue a ruling early next year. But she might also schedule another hearing so both sides can further expound on their claims. That seems somewhat pointless, since all parties have said they plan to appeal no matter how Burroughs rules. There probably won’t be a final decision until this case works its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 11/08/2018 05:25 am

    Re: "Education philanthropy or early recruiting plan?"

    Rather than $2 billion into pre-school programs, how about the same amount into organisations that help couples prepare for marriage and parenting.  The payoff here would be exponentially greater.