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The Republican Wave Carries Governors, Legislatures, Superintendents

One day after the 2010 election, this much is clear: Republicans have made sweeping gains in races for state elected offices, from which they'll be able to dictate a lot of school policy for the next couple years.

But gauging the implications of the GOP surge for education is no easy task.

Many GOP candidates for governor and state schools' chief, for instance, were critical of their Democratic opponents' ideas for education. Victorious John Kasich, in Ohio, said incumbent Ted Strickland's education agenda was expensive and unwieldy, and promised to scrap it. Another winner, Terry Branstad of Iowa, was no fan of Democratic Gov. Chet Culver's voluntary preschool program, and said he wanted to replace it with more targeted aid to needy children.

In some cases, candidates took pretty overt stances against federal spending (even if it helped prop up their state budgets). Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, for instance, railed against stimulus funding and Race to the Top. The governor was re-elected Tuesday night, beating former Houston Mayor Bill White. In Florida, Republican Rick Scott complained about federal spending that, in his view, would bring new obligations for the state. What that means for the state's $700 million award in the federal Race to the Top competition remains to be seen. (Scott's campaign didn't respond to a number of my requests for comment on that topic.)

Other unknowns: will Republican gains result in lawmakers and governors taking a more skeptical view of the Common Core State Standards Initiative? Or would newly elected officials who objected to their states' adoption of those standards be accused of lowering the academic bar?

Truth be told, many of those candidates, taking their cue from voters, had other things on their mind this campaign season. Education didn't appear to be central focus in a lot of state races. Not with unemployment hovering at 9.6 percent.

School issues were "really overwhelmed by the economic anxieties the voters had," Tim Storey, of the National Conference of State Legislatures, told me.

Republican candidates took all six of the partisan state superintendents' races on the ballot, with several of them promising to champion charter schools and choice. In California, Democratic state assemblyman Tom Torlakson, with backing from two major teachers' unions, defeated Larry Aceves, who had called making it easier for school districts to fire ineffective teachers and other staff.

Torlakson agreed that educators who aren't cutting it need to be shown the door, but he's said there needs to be collaboration between state officials, teachers, and administrators in setting professional standards.

One thing seems certain: Newly elected state officials who objected to the federal stimulus funding will soon know what it's like to live without it. When that money dries up, which budget analysts say could happen by the end of this year or by next year, states will be faced with hard choices about cutting school programs and programs. The recently passed Education Jobs Fund could stave off some of the pain. But state revenues aren't expected to recover from The Great Recession for a couple years, at least.

Given all that, some of last night's winners might wonder what they've gotten themselves into.

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