Friends of students, education score big election wins in VA, NJ, CT and NY

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by Colleen Flaherty & Félix Pérez

Amid a raft of elections yesterday from coast to coast, educators and supporters of public education scored high-profile wins in Virginia and Connecticut, defended a pro-public education majority in the New Jersey Legislature, and elected a New York mayor who promised to launch universal pre-K.

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Voters in Colorado, however, rejected an amendment that would have directed more resources to the state’s classrooms.

Virginia Governor

In what was arguably the marquis race, Terry McAuliffe defeated state attorney general and Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, 48 percent to 45.5 percent. As opposed to Cuccinelli and his pro-private school voucher plan, McAuliffe will be an advocate for students and educators, according to the Virginia Education Association.

“This is a great victory for Virginia students and for public education,” said science teacher and VEA President Meg Gruber in a statement. “Mr. McAuliffe will safeguard Virginia’s future by seizing the opportunity to invest in the students attending our public schools.”

Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Education  Association President Meg Gruber
McAuliffe and Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber

Gruber commended Virginia educators who worked hard for McAuliffe and other pro-public education candidates, such as Ralph Northam, who won the election for lieutenant governor over the extreme right-wing candidate E.W. Jackson, 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent. The lieutenant governor is especially important because he possesses the tie-breaking vote in the evenly split Senate.

“Teachers and support professionals know how important it is to elect leaders who believe in quality public schools, and they invested many of their personal hours making a difference in this election,” said Gruber.

Arizona math teacher and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel weighed in on the Virginia victories: “Virginia students and families will reap the benefits of the Terry McAuliffe victory for years to come. Virginia looks sunnier today as a result of electing a governor who will invest in and strengthen public education, turn the page on the current one-size-fits-all approach to educating Virginia students, and partner with educators working every day to make our children’s future brighter.”

New Jersey Legislature, Minimum Wage

New Jersey voters maintained a system of checks and balances among their elected officials by retaining a solid state legislative majority supportive of public education and re-electing Republican Governor Chris Christie, much criticized for slashing education funding and his withering attacks, at times personal, on educators. The Senate membership will remain split between 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans, while 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans comprise the General Assembly. A handful of close races have yet to be called.

“We congratulate Gov. Christie on his re-election,” said high school math teacher and New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer.  “But clearly, New Jersey voters chose to elect a strong, pro-public education Legislature because they know that our public schools are a top priority.”

Steinhauer added, “We call on the governor and the Legislature to work collaboratively alongside NJEA to give every child in New Jersey a great public school.”

In other noteworthy Garden State electoral news, voters overwhelming approved, 60 percent to 40 percent, a constitutional amendment that raises the minimum age from $7.25 to $8.25 and ties future increases to inflation. Earlier this year, Christie vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50.

Bridgeport, Connecticut, School Board

In Connecticut, all eyes were on the Bridgeport school board elections. In a win for students, parents and educators, the Board of Education was tipped away from so-called education “reformers” when four of the five seats were won by candidates backed by parents and educators.

“They’re going to support and build up public education in Bridgeport, which is what we need to do,” said Greg Furlong, Bridgeport educator and parent. “All of them have a long history of working in Bridgeport, as teachers or as community activists. They have a long track record of trying to improve the city.”

The winners that swung the majority included Howard Gardner, Dave Hennessey, Andre Baker and Sauda Baraka. Furlong said these candidates are against the status quo by putting students ahead of corporate interests, unlike Superintendent Paul Vallas, a one-size-fits-all “reformer” whose future remains uncertain as the state Supreme Court determines his qualifications.

Colorado Education Funding Ballot Measure

Voters in Colorado, on the other hand, rejected a ballot measure, Amendment 66, that would have generated $950 million for local school districts to use for locally determined needs such as class size reduction, updated technology, student supports and restoring programs like art and music. The loss was particularly disappointing for educators and their allies because Colorado has cut more than $1 billion from its schools over the last five years and spends $2,000 less per student than the national average.

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Said high school social studies teacher and Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman, “The vote on Amendment 66 is an upsetting result for the children of Colorado and the educators who have worked so hard to meet student needs during years of devastating budget cuts. We came up short, and we will need to intensify our efforts for a new statewide funding solution. All Colorado school employees will continue to do the best possible job to serve students.”

Despite the loss, Dallman praised CEA members for their effort and pledged to continue the search for additional school funding. “Members of the Colorado Education Association were proud to be involved in all aspects of the ‘Yes on 66’ campaign, from gathering nearly 19,500 signatures for the ballot, to appearing in TV ads, to personally engaging hundreds of thousands of voters across the state. Our members will take the positive energy generated during the Amendment 66 campaign and use it to further build the case for filling Colorado’s enormous shortfalls in school funding. This fight is not over, and we will prevail for our schools and our students.”

NEA’s Van Roekel said, “Colorado educators have been leading the nation on ensuring great public schools for every child, with students consistently showing improved growth and outcomes despite the lack of financial investment in the state’s education system. The nation needs Colorado to try again – the stakes are too high to give up.”

New York Mayor

Bill de Blasio and his family
Bill de Blasio and his family

Bill de Blasio won handily in the race for New York City mayor. In the city with the nation’s largest school system, de Blasio — a former school board member — will be the first mayor of New York in at least 50 years to have a child in the public schools.

Among de Blasio’s pro-education policies, he has proposed increasing taxes on New Yorkers making more than $500,000 in order to pay for universal pre-K and after-school activities, removing letter grading of schools and reforming the charter school process to give parents of public school students more rights.

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