Society and Culture, Education

Unexpected education partnerships emerge in 2012 election

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, seen here speaking on education at the World Affairs Council on September 21st, 2012, has partnered with Democrats like Michelle Rhee to advocate education reform. Image Credit: World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, seen here speaking on education at the World Affairs Council on September 21st, 2012, has partnered with Democrats like Michelle Rhee to advocate education reform. Image Credit: World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Education tends to produce some strange bedfellows. From right-leaning accountability hawks pairing with civil rights groups on the left to advocate for No Child Left Behind, to prominent Democrat Michelle Rhee and Republican Jeb Bush campaigning for the controversial Parent Trigger, unlikely coalitions have formed over various education issues.

At the panel we hosted yesterday: What will the 2012 election mean for education?, even more extreme and unexpected partnerships emerged:

1.    The Tea Party and the Teachers Unions: Three out of five panelists agreed that Tony Bennett’s defeat in the Indiana state superintendent race was the biggest surprise of the campaign. A prominent school-choice advocate and collective bargaining skeptic, Bennett is a natural target for the teachers unions. But in an interesting twist, Tea Partiers chose to side with unions in opposing Bennett over his support for the Common Core. As Rick Hess mentioned yesterday, despite GOP claims that the administration has turned the Common Core into an “Obama-era federal overreach” by pushing states to sign on through Race to the Top and ESEA waivers, Bennett has remained an ardent supporter of the initiative. Given that cash-strapped states are approaching the looming implementation deadline, this is a tension that will likely continue.

2.    Idahoans and Californians: Though seemingly at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both states rejected initiatives that would have seriously handicapped collective bargaining. Idahoans defeated three education-related initiatives, including one that protected tenure and collective bargaining. As education expert Andy Rotherham remarked, in “In Idaho, you saw a package of reforms championed by a Republican chief go down substantially. Did I mention this was in Idaho?” In California, Proposition 32 attempted to ban unions from using members’ annual dues for advocacy. Its success, as my colleague KC Deane wrote yesterday, would “signal a sizeable chink in the union’s armor.” Pollster Kristen Soltis argued that the defeats in Idaho (and some may argue in California as well), signal that “we in the reform community need to do a good job explaining why these process changes actually lead to a system that leads to better student outcomes.”

3.    John Boehner and Dennis Van Roekel: With the fiscal cliff looming, there was much talk from the panelists about what the potential “sequestration” cuts would mean for education. When asked about the issue, Katherine Haley, assistant to Representative John Boehner for policy, remarked that her boss “intends to work with the president to avoid the huge tax increase as well as the huge spending cuts.” Similarly, in a blog post earlier this year, National Education Association President Van Roekel agreed with the speaker on the urgent need to prevent the cuts. He argued, “We are all accountable for student success, and our elected officials have an obligation to ensure that education funding doesn’t fall off a cliff.” While the panelists agreed that sequestration would not mean substantial cuts to education and wouldn’t take effect until next August, Education Week’s Alyson Klein pointed out that students in impact aid districts would feel the cuts immediately. Given that neither side wants to see these cuts occur, it looks likely that members will continue to “kick-the-can” and avoid making the tough decisions.

With the fiscal cliff looming and the realization that our divided Congress is here to stay, most are heralding bipartisanship as largely a good thing. But for education, how these unexpected compromises will play out and affect the “reform” coalition agenda is still yet to be seen.

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