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Election 2014 Caravan of Delights: Illinois Gubernatorial Race

As we get closer to the Nov. 4 general election, I will take a look each day at a state election of interest. (If you've missed my election reporting from CaliforniaFlorida, and Georgia, you've still got time to catch up!) I'll look at polling numbers and the candidates' general positions on K-12 issues, and I'll also highlight the political and policy environments that are influencing the debate about public schools. For the sake of brevity, I'll only focus on the Democratic and Republican candidates. Today I'll focus on the race for governor in Illinois.

Among those seeking a repeat of what happened in Wisconsin four years ago, when Gov. Scott Walker won the election and proceeded to dramatically curb collective-bargaining rights in the state, some have looked at Illinois and recast GOP challenger and investment executive Bruce Rauner in Walker's role

One key difference, however, is that the Democratic incumbent in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn, is himself getting the fish eye from (and sued by) unions in the state for the changes he approved to public-employee pensions. (I wrote about Quinn and Rauner back in April in light of the pension scrum.) That could help explain why the race in the Land of Lincoln is close, although Quinn has rallied to close the gap in Real Clear Politics' polling average since the summer. The race is now tied:


Pat Quinn

As his running mate, Quinn chose Paul Vallas, the former head of Chicago Public Schools—Quinn describes Vallas as a "nationally renowned fiscal and education expert." Vallas has also run public schools in New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn., and there are sharply divided opinions about his views and actions

Quinn focuses on his efforts to boost spending on early education in the state during his tenure, such as the $45 million in new spending he approved to build early education centers in underserved areas. He also supported the successful push to make Illinois the first state to have bilingual education requirements in preschool programs, although those requirements were tricky for Chicago schools to deal with, former Education Week reporter Mary Ann Zehr reported nearly four years ago. 

Despite labor unions' anger about the changes approved by Quinn to retirement benefits, teacher labor groups like the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers see Rauner as enough of a threat that they've decided to endorse Quinn. (Compare that to the Empire State, where the New York State United Teachers have declined to endorse any gubernatorial candidate.)

Bruce Rauner

Rauner has a handy "blueprint" for education that is actually purple-themed: He criticizes Quinn for how state K-12 spending has dropped to the tune of $900 million during the incumbent's tenure. UPDATE: Rauner's been taken to task by the media for falsely claiming that the governor has cut education funding. As Rich Miller, a columnist for Crain's, points out, Rauner's claim is based on reductions in federal stimulus aid that Quinn has no control over. 

Rauner states in his blueprint, "In order to pick up the state's slack, local school districts have increased the burden on homeowners and their property taxes. Approximately 60 percent of a property tax bill goes directly to local schools. The property tax is the most onerous tax on Illinois families today, and it's Quinn-Madigan's fault." 

Ironically enough, Rauner's message about unfair property taxes echoes a major argument used by Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorical candidate Tom Wolf. (See my Oct. 24 post on education in the Pennsylvania governor's race.)

The GOP candidate also supports merit pay for teachers, and says he wants to reduce what he calls an unwieldy and unhelpful state K-12 bureaucracy. In part, Rauner wants legislators to approve a bill allowing local school boards to modify regulations that amount to "unfunded mandates" from the state. If you think Rauner's nod to local flexibility sounds like something you've heard from Marshall Tuck, a candidate for California superintendent (and a Democrat), you'd be right. 

Other Delights in the Caravan

I've already touched on the pension fight going on in Illinois, which will extend well beyond the Nov. 4 election. There's one other recent development that may not have a direct impact on the governor's race, but could be interesting to watch over the next several months. My colleague Liana Heitin wrote Oct. 22 that Chicago Public Schools' CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she wants to delay giving the Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test to city students for another year—it's due to be administered this school year.

Will this be a significant boost to the growing movement that wants to scale back standardized testing? How will it impact Illinois education policy? 

Remember that in Chicago, the relationship between the teachers' union and Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel deteriorated to the point where former CTU President Karen Lewis looked poised to run against him in a bid for mayor before stepping away from the CTU due to health reasons. To the extent it impacts education politics in Illinois, the CTU-Emanuel relationship will continue to be one to watch. 

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