The lessons from the TEA party influence in shaping the 2010 election are being felt beyond the election of Congressional and state officials. The principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility and getting our money’s worth out of government spilled over into the education decisions made across the country.
This is bad news for the teachers unions that have dominated education decisions for years leaving us with huge unfunded pension liabilities, high rates of per pupil spending and unsatisfying student performance results. While unions rage about standardized testing parents clamor for answers about why their kids are falling behind since spending more money has not produced better outcomes.
Across the country voters made choices about education. In many local elections voters approved parcel taxes or levies to support local school districts when it was clear where their money was going and what the need was that the measure addressed. But it was a very different story at the state level where measures sought to raises taxes or impose fees in teachers union supported causes:
- No income tax in Washington State where voters rejected a plea from unions and Bill Gates to impose an income tax on couples making over $400,000 per year to fund education and health care programs.
- No raiding Arizona early-childhood health and education fund to balance the state budget the voters said rejecting a legislative proposal for more budget flexibility.
- Oklahoma voters say NO to new education spending rejecting $830 million in new tax spending on education. There were two measures decided, one required the state’s per-pupil spending to match the average of other states in the region. A second would have amended the state constitution making the first measure advisory not mandatory on the legislature. These measures were prompted by teachers unions lawsuit in 2007 calling per-pupil spending was inadequate. Voters did not agree.
- Florida voters kept class size limits in the State Constitution rejecting a ballot proposal to relax the class size limits in public schools. Teachers unions had campaigned hard to reject the measure so the problem of how to pay for it goes back to the Legislature to solve.
- Colorado voters shot down three measures to limit the state’s revenue raising capabilities including one that would have cut $337 million in property-tax revenue for schools during the first year.
- Oregon voters rejected casino gambling to raise money for education.
- Hawaii voters end elected state school board replacing it with one appointed by the Governor. The Legislature will need to pass enabling laws to put the action into effect.
The message from voters seems to be that they want public education to be well funded and effective but they expect results that benefit their kids to be the first priority rather than arbitrary per pupil spending ratios. Teacher unions had a tough time winning further tax increases for education setting up battles in State Legislatures over balancing the budget by setting spending priorities with revenue available.
A slow economic recovery assures that education funding stays on the front burner as schools increasing face competition from other equally high priorities like public safety, health care and infrastructure maintenance for tax revenues.
We have just begun the soul searching reform of education. The recession, budget cuts and looming unfunded pension liabilities will force this soul searching to accelerate and be productive in living within our means and making each dollar count to get good education results for kids. Crude per pupil spending formula for measuring schools is not going to cut it. Standard test scores are useful but not the only thing school must teach kids. Teachers are important in our childrens’ education success but so is accountability for education results. Educations rules are too rigid, education management is too restricted in making changes needed for future success including removing poor performing teachers, and restrictions on using new methods, resources, technology and people with skills from outside the traditional teaching profession are holding us back.
Change is in the air in education and parents need to take back control of education and not let the Government reduce it down to the lowest common denominator to the detriment of our kids.