In an election where pundits and reporters predicted education would be a major factor in a much-anticipated “red wave,” Republican gubernatorial candidates are said to have followed a “playbook” of school choice and so-called parental rights that Glenn Youngkin used at the Winning the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2021.
To the extent that conservative candidates followed this script, voters varied widely in their response. Although Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida, both harsh critics of public schools and proponents of school vouchers, won their re-elections easily, Democratic incumbents Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan successfully defended their seats with a strong, pro-public education platforms.
However, where voters had the opportunity to vote directly on education issues, they unanimously voted in favor of public schools. State election initiatives to strengthen public education have been passed in all regions of the country.
One of the most ambitious ballot initiatives was Colorado’s Proposition FF. The measure proposed reducing income tax deduction amounts for those earning $300,000 or more and using the saved proceeds to fund free meals for all Colorado public school students. The measure also increased wages for school employees who prepare and serve food.
“Voters understand the importance of making sure children in Colorado continue to get the meals they need for improved health, better grades, higher attendance and higher graduation rates,” said Marc Jacobson, CEO of Hunger Free Colorado, one non-profit advocacy.
“That’s a really stupid idea,” commented Jon Caldera, president of the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank, in an interview with PBS. “This suggestion is, ‘Hey, let’s get the rich to buy our kids lunch.'”
But voters in Colorado voted for a free school lunch: as of this writing, with 97 percent of the vote counted, nearly 56 percent voted in favour.
Massachusetts Question 1, another progressive voting measure, proposed an additional tax of 4 percent on income over $1 million, with that new revenue going towards public education, roads and bridges, and public transportation.
It had the support of top Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Governor-elect Maura Healey.
“Long before the pandemic, Massachusetts needed new investments in our transportation and public education systems,” said spokesmen for Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community organizations Fall River reporter. “Now more than ever, these investments are needed to boost our economy for all and ensure Massachusetts remains a great place to live, work and raise families.”
Where voters had an opportunity to vote directly on educational issues, they voted unanimously for public schools.
Question 1 was accepted with 52 percent of the votes.
Two nominations went before voters in New Mexico. Amendment 1 proposed increasing government spending on early childhood education and public schools from oil and gas revenues. It was estimated that if passed, the measure would provide hundreds of millions in additional funding for public schools.
“New Mexico has a unique opportunity to lead the country in demonstrating how states can create sustainable revenue streams for early childhood education without raising taxes,” said Kimberly Robson, COO of Save The Children Action Network.
The citizens of New Mexico also voted on Bond Question 3. This measure would issue up to $216 million worth of general obligations to make capital improvements for higher education, special schools and tribal schools.
Voters approved both voting measures by a wide margin.
Also on the ballot was West Virginia Amendment 4. It would have amended the West Virginia Constitution to require rules and policies passed by the West Virginia Board of Education to be submitted to the legislature for review, approval, amendment, or rejection.
Proponents claimed it would make the board and the public education system it oversees accountable to the people of West Virginia through their elected officials. Others had a different attitude. Conservative proponents also saw the board as too passive when it came to how race was taught in classrooms and a lack of enthusiasm for “school choice” programs.
“It could change the direction of public education every two years when a new legislature comes along; that’s not what you want,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “In a public school system, you want continuity, you want experts making decisions about public education, and the experts or educators in the field, not the legislators who intervene in all different aspects of life.”
Voters supported Lee’s position and voted the amendment by a 14-point margin.
Other public education initiatives voted on were:
- California Proposition 28. This initiative required increased spending on arts and music instruction for all K-12 public schools in California funded from the general fund. Proponents argued that only one in five schools had dedicated teachers for arts and music programs. This easily missed a lead of more than three to two.
- In a statewide, non-binding “consultation question” on the Idaho vote, voters were asked if they “agree” with the state legislature, which allocates more than $410 million annually to public education and vocational training. The referendum passed with a slim majority of four to one.
While it’s far from clear that midterm election results will persuade Republican candidates to try a different education textbook, there was little confusion as to where voters stood.