Education prominent in elections

Initiatives across the country put to vote

Education was a hot issue on ballots and in races across the country this election year. Debates over school choice, bilingual education, college education savings programs, and school funding were waged among candidates and voters alike. Following is a recap of the issues that faced voters in Michigan and across the country.

Proposal 1

Michigan's Proposal 1, a school voucher plan, was soundly defeated Nov. 7 by a margin of 69 to 31 percent. The proposal would have provided for teacher testing, guaranteed per-pupil funding for public schools, and vouchers to students in failing school districts.

A district was deemed to be "failing" if it graduated less than two-thirds of its students. Seven districts would have qualified for the voucher program if the proposal had passed. Proponents, led by the Kids First! Yes! organization, included the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

The opposition campaign, All Kids First!, was supported financially and politically by the Michigan Education Association, along with its parent organization, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. The unions raised millions of dollars from an increase in member dues, earmarked for defeating the Michigan ballot proposal and a similar voucher proposal in California. Controversy arose over school districts spending school funds to oppose the plan.

Both supporters and opponents of Proposal 1 launched TV and radio ad campaigns and spent months debating the issue in forums and events held around the state.

Although the proposal failed, over 1.2 million Michigan citizens supported the measure, voicing a clear concern over the state of education in Michigan. Supporters of Proposal 1 say its defeat is not the end of the school choice movement. Education reform advocates are considering future ballot proposals or legislative action to increase choice, which may include increasing the current legislative cap on charter schools.

The Michigan Education Association is attempting to enlist the support of school choice forces for reforms such as class-size reduction, teacher training, and early childhood development in public schools. The state's largest school employee union hopes its campaign for public school improvement will dissuade the state from seeking control of failing districts and dampen the public discussion over school choice.

Michigan Board of Education

Eleven candidates fought for two seats in the Michigan Board of Education race, with Democrats winning both on Nov. 7.

Democratic incumbent Kathleen Straus earned a second eight-year term, while Democrat John Austin won the seat that will be vacated by Republican Dorothy Beardmore in January.

The eight-member board, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans before the election, now stands at five Democrats and three Republicans. The board sets policy for public education in the state of Michigan.

Other ballot initiatives

Voters across the country approved and rejected numerous education-related ballot proposals on Election Day.

Arizona voters approved a proposal that will end bilingual education, while Oregon voters rejected a performance-pay plan for teachers.

California voters rejected a voucher proposal 71 to 29 percent. Tim Draper, head of the California voucher campaign, says he will work to place the issue before the public again in the future.

Washington citizens rejected a proposal that would have allowed for more charter schools, by a margin of four percent. Washington citizens approved initiatives that will reduce class size, provide teacher training, and increase teacher pay.