School Beat: The Election’s Impact on Education

by Lisa Schiff on November 4, 2010

While the results of this Tuesday’s elections are for the most part in, the implications for public education are in many ways not yet clear. Nationally, the victories of Tea Party candidates have meant a loss of Democratic control of the House and a further push to the political right, but the consequences for public schools may be minimal. Regardless of party, public education has had no friends in high places for a long time – and the policies of Obama have been either indistinguishable or even more of an attack on our schools than we saw from George Bush.

Now that the elections are over, legislators may be willing to spend a little political capital to pass a new version of No Child Left Behind, but given that it wasn’t headed anywhere good to begin with – more privatization, simplistic assessments of teachers, a continued blind eye to the lack of resources and impact of poverty – we have no reason to be any more or less hopeful than we were before Election Day.

California, however, as is so often the case, did not go the way of the rest of the country. Instead of a continuing the Schwarzenegger trend by electing a wealthy ostensible outsider from the corporate sector, voters chose long-time Democrat and former Governor Jerry Brown to once again lead the state. Brown must have morphed his identity at least as many times as Bob Dylan over the years, so it’s hard to know what we can really expect from him. In the not-so-distant past when he was Mayor of Oakland, developers ran amok downtown, and his only claim to fame regarding education reform in that city was to start a military academy and an arts charter school.

But even with all that in mind, Brown’s education platform in this race was promising in that it focused on things like significantly increasing state spending on education, new strategies for teacher recruitment and revamping testing. In his victory speech, he actually called for making California’s public school’s number one again. It may be a crumb, but it’s one education activists may be able to use over the next four years as we attempt to hold him to the agenda he set during his campaign. At the very least, Brown’s elections mean the end of Schwarzenegger’s endless efforts to literally rob our schools of the legally designated funds.

Also at the state level was the election of Tom Torlakson as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The State Superintendent is supposed to be the public face and advocate for California’s schools and is responsible for implementing the policies of the state Board of Education. Given that those individuals are appointed by the Governor and that Torlakson and Brown have more in common than not on education, this often-times invisible position could potentially become more important. If Brown is serious about increasing public school funding, he will need as many well-informed allies as possible and he could do much worse than Torlakson.

Results for several of the statewide propositions were also relevant to our schools. Proposition 24 failed, which is a huge disappointment. It would have eliminated certain corporate tax breaks that according to estimates by the Legislative Analyst’s Office would have brought in about $1.3 billion dollars per year in new revenue starting in fiscal year 2012-2013. With our state lurching from financial crisis to financial crisis each year, and with the annual cuts going deeper and deeper into core services, equalizing the burden of our budgetary needs is essential. Proposition 24 would have been one step in that direction, but it’s a step we still seem unable to take.

In the mixed-bag category are the victories for Propositions 25 and 26. Proposition 25 reduces the requirement to pass the budget from a super-majority to a simple majority, quietly accomplishing half of the budget and revenue rationalization that our state so desperately needs. Hopefully this will mean an end to the budget deadlocks that paralyzed us every year in these very harsh times. However, Proposition 25 left intact the two-thirds majority threshold in place for decisions about taxes and fees, a much harder change to make as proven by Proposition 26, which expands the set of fees that must meet that same high threshold, either in the legislature or in local elections.

The education-related electoral results in San Francisco were mostly predictable. Disappointing, though not truly surprising was the failure of Proposition D, which would have allowed legal immigrants who were guardians or parents of children in our city’s schools to vote in BOE elections. This is the second time this measure has failed in San Francisco, despite the success of similar measures in other states and the history of support for immigrants and immigrant rights.

In the Board of Education (BOE) elections, as of Wednesday afternoon with some ballots still to be counted, both incumbents Hydra Mendoza and Kim-Shree Maufas won – with Mendoza the clear top vote getter by a wide margin. The last spot went to Margaret Brodkin, who, while a newcomer to the BOE, is a long-standing and effective advocate for children in San Francisco. This expertise, along with all that the returning and current commissioners can bring into play will be even more important than ever with as yet unknown changes that will be taking place in City leadership.

Given that Mayor Gavin Newsom won his bid for Lieutenant Governor, the Board of Supervisors will be choosing someone to take his place come January, but until we have a clearer idea of who that person is likely to be – and what the makeup of the Board will be once the ranked choice voting process finishes – it’s impossible to speculate on how the City will view its responsibilities to its schools.

Rainy Day fund support, General Fund monies for sports, libraries, art and music (all supported by the Public Education Enrichment Fund) and possibly new types of in-kind and direct assistance all depend on city leaders in the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors understanding the importance of our schools to the City’s health, the challenges our families and schools face and many roles the City can play as a partner in addressing those challenges. So while the elections are over, there is still much left up in the air for San Francisco’s schools.

Filed under: Archive