Governors Who Pushed K-12 Overhauls See Popularity Slide
A number of newly elected Republican governors in political battleground states who have pushed sweeping, controversial changes in education policy into law have seen their approval ratings slide since taking office.
Those governors' standing could affect not only their political futures, but also who wins the 2012 presidential election, if Democrat Barack Obama chooses to run against the agendas put forward by state leaders and contrast them with his own.
Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich, who backed the passage of laws that greatly reduced teachers' and other workers' collective bargaining powers, both face low approval ratings, according to recent polls. So does Florida's Rick Scott, who has backed major cuts in K-12 spending and signed into a law a measure that phases out teacher tenure, ties teacher evaluation and pay to performance, and requires educators to pay more for retirement benefits.
Of course, in some cases it's hard to tell the degree to which the GOP officials' political struggles can be tied to education policy. Gov. Walker's collective bargaining measure dominated the headlines in Wisconsin for months, and Gov. Kasich's measure also roiled the state for a time (both laws are now being challenged, one legally, one politically.) But Scott has made several controversial spending and policy moves since taking office, many of which had nothing to do with schools.
And just because approval ratings are low, that doesn't mean the governors enacted bad policy. They would surely argue (as elected officials usually do) that they were making the tough choices that have hurt them politically in the short term, but will help their states financially, and academically,over time.
Keeping those arguments in mind, let's go to the polls:
Walker: 43 percent of Wisconsin voters approve of his performance, and 54 percent disapprove, according to Public Policy Polling.
Kasich: Just 33 percent approve of his performance, while 56 percent disapprove, according to Public Policy Polling. The poll also found that 55 percent of those polled said they favored doing away with Senate Bill 5, approved by Kasich and the GOP-controlled legislature this spring.
Scott: Florida's governor fares the worst of the three, with only 29 percent of state residents approving of his record, and 57 percent disapproving, according to Quinnipiac University. By a 54-29 margin, voters said the state's newly approved budget is unfair to them.
The governors' aggressive education agendas could set the stage for an interesting political dynamic in 2012.
Some teachers and union members have been critical of Obama's education policies, complaining they reflect a willingness to scapegoat teachers for schools' shortcomings.
But the policies of Walker, Kasich, and Scott appear to have galvanized teachers' unions. And the Obama administration may have helped its standing with organized labor by coming out against Wisconsin's collective bargaining law and policies like it, and urging public officials to forge deals cooperatively with unions.
All that said, with 17 months between now the presidential election, governors will have a lot more time to sell their budgetary policies and collective bargaining curbs to the public. There's another legislative session between now and November 2012, too, so presumably they'll have the opportunity to craft new laws that appeal to teachers and taxpayers—or antagonize them.