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Election 2009: Early Results

By guest blogger Erik Robelen:

Two big-city mayors with control of their school systems won re-election tonight, as voters in New York City handed Michael R. Bloomberg, an Independent, a third term in office and Bostonians gave Democrat Thomas M. Menino a fifth term. Education figured prominently in both campaigns.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, where incumbent Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, was running in part on his education record, voters instead opted for a change. They handed the keys to the governor's mansion over to Republican Christopher J. Christie, a former U.S. attorney whose education agenda emphasized school choice.

School matters were largely overshadowed by other issues, especially taxes and transportation, in the closely watched Virginia governor's race, in which Republican Robert F. McDonnell won handily. And yet, while leading Republicans and some pundits suggest the GOP victory in Virginia is a repudiation of President Barack Obama's political agenda, it's worth noting that some core elements of McDonnell's education platform bear a striking resemblance to top Obama priorities. Both have emphasized calls for teacher performance pay and expanding the charter schools sector.

At press time, there was no final word yet on several ballot measures in various states with implications for schools: a Maine measure to repeal a 2007 law on school district consolidation; initiatives in both Maine and Washington state that would rein in state and local spending; and an Ohio plan that would allow casino gambling, with a portion of the tax revenue reserved for school districts. Also in Maine, voters were deciding whether to repeal the state's new law allowing same-sex marriages, which some had suggested could lead to the teaching of gay marriage in schools.

The Associated Press also reported that Detroit voters approved a bond referendum to fund an ambitious $500 million building plan for the city's public schools.

I wrote an election preview recently for Education Week that takes a closer look at how education was shaping up in the 2009 campaigns.

The performance of New York City's public schools was a central issue in the mayoral contest between Bloomberg and Thompson, the city's comptroller and the former president of the city board of education.

Bloomberg pledged in his campaign to double the number of charter schools in the city and to spend an additional $50 million over the next four years to help reach his goal of graduating 120,000 New Yorkers from community colleges by 2020.

Education also played a key role in the Boston mayoral contest, with city councilman Michael F. Flaherty Jr. attacking Mayor Menino's stewardship of the city school system and the city's lack of progress in stemming the high school dropout rate.

Menino, a Democrat who for years had opposed charter schools, shifted his stance earlier this year, saying he now supports converting some of Boston's low-performing schools into charters.

Even though education didn't draw nearly as much attention in the Virginia governor's race, McDonnell, the winner, has outlined ideas for more charter schools and performance pay, as well as other items.

His campaign Web site says: "Bob will be focused on supporting parents and students, equipping principals with the tools they need, rewarding excellent teachers and principals with performance pay, improving financial accountability, getting more resources into the classroom, and making charter schools more accessible for Virginia's children."

In a high-profile congressional election in upstate New York, education has played little if any discernible role, though the New York State United Teachers, which apparently has some 25,000 members in that district, ended up shifting its support to Democrat Bill Owens after Republican Dede Scozzafava dropped out just days before the election.

I scanned the Web sites of both Owens and his remaining opponent, Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman, but could find no mention of plans for K-12 education. The closest I could come up with for Hoffman--who has drawn support from leading national conservatives, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin--was a rather Reaganesque item on the Conservative Party of New York State's Web site suggesting the U.S. Department of Education should be eliminated.

Under a section titled "national issues," the education statement says: "Attempts to nationalize our nation's educational system are setting a dangerous precedent and should come to an end. ... The first step in reducing Washington's role in education should be the abolition of the federal Department of Education."

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