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EDUCATION TO PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN UPCOMING STATE AND NATIONAL ELECTIONS

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"Education at the state level is like Social Security and Medicare in a federal race. We may not be able to win on the issue, but we have to be able to hold our own to have a chance."

Despite the fact that education is being ignored in the current appropriations cycle, education is playing an important role as an issue in the upcoming November elections. Nationwide, 12 states will be considering ballot measures that could alter the direction of education within those states for years and many governor’s races are hinging on the education issue. Finally, the issue of education could play a major role in the control of the Senate.

In the race for Governor of Florida between Gov. Jeb Bush and his democratic challenger Bill McBride, the word education is never far from either candidate’s lips. Earlier this month, Bush unveiled two new initiatives that will allow Florida teachers to repay college loans at a reduced rate and buy a house with no down payment. All certified teachers regardless of experience would be eligible for the program as long as they remain in the state of Florida.

Florida also has two education initiatives on the ballot for this November. One proposal would create a universal pre-kindergarten program for all four-year olds to be phased in by the 2005-2006 school year. Another measure, Amendment 9, would limit class sizes to 18 students in grades kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth, and 25 students in grades ninth through 12th grades. According to estimates, the program could cost $8 billion to $27 billion.

While McBride and the state’s teachers’ union support the bill, Bush and many college presidents, the Florida Board of Education, and a school superintendents group believe the cost is too great. For his part, Bush has proposed a $2.8 billion bond program that would be used to build 12,000 new classrooms in more than 300 new schools over five years.

Meanwhile, 11 other states have some form of education initiative on the ballot. In California, voters will determine the fate of Proposition 47, which would help pay for the construction of new classrooms to relieve overcrowding. The money would also be used to repair older schools and upgrade facilities throughout California’s community college and university systems. Californians will also vote on an After-School Education and Safety Program Act that would cost roughly $400 million a year and provide afterschool grants to elementary and secondary schools.

Education Week article on ballot initiatives in other states.
Summaries of the 16 education-related ballot measures on November 5, 2002.

Lights On Afterschool!The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and advocating for afterschool programs. The organization is supported by a group of public, private and nonprofit organizations that share the goal of ensuring all children have access to afterschool programs by 2010. The Alliance grew out of a public-private partnership with the Mott Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education that expanded afterschool programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers afterschool program. The federal government provided the grants to the local communities while the Mott Foundation funded public awareness and training activities. These groups came together in 1999 to create the Afterschool Alliance.

Every year the Afterschool Alliance heads an event called Lights on Afterschool which seeks to rally support for afterschool programs all around the country. This year the event took place on October 10 and highlighted programs at over 5,000 sites and 1, 200 communities. A half a million Americans participated in these rallies. Actor and youth advocate Arnold Schwarzenegger served as chair of the event for the second year in a row. “Lights on Afterschool! is about keeping our kids safe and helping them succeed in school and in life,” says Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger is also the lead sponsor of a California ballot initiative to boost spending on afterschool programs, Proposition 49.

Learn more about the Afterschool Alliance

 

Education Should Play a Large Part in Southern Senate Races

In an article for the Washington Post, David Broder writes that House and Senate races in the South, and the issue of education in particular, will play a large role in determining which political party will control Congress, after the election.

Broder describes the revolution in southern politics, which has roots in the 1960s, that helped give rise to what he calls a “50-50 America.” He cites Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights agenda, Richard Nixon’s southern strategy, and the “Contract with America” that led to Republican control of the House and Senate in 1994 as key moments in the revolution. According to Broder, “it was the emergence of a competitive and at times dominant Republican party in the South that created this era’s political map. Now, for both parties, the South looms so large in the fight for national advantage that every race in the region becomes a coveted prize.”

This year, it appears that education will play a key role in these southern races. Broder notes that every Democratic governor in the region “has made education the centerpiece of his agenda” and that Democrats “have benefited most from the public focus on the issue-partly because they seized on it first, and partly because they have been willing to spend money on schools.”

As Donald Fowler, the veteran Democratic Party leader in South Carolina, told Broder: “There is a consciousness on the part of southerners that we are still behind the rest of the country, and the only way we’re going to make it up is through education. That is true of most blacks, but also of many middle-class whites.”

Warren Tompkins, a Republican consultant, agreed on the importance of the education issue: “Education at the state level is like Social Security and Medicare in a federal race. We may not be able to win on the issue, but we have to be able to hold our own to have a chance.”

Specifically, Broder points to the race between Rep. Lindsey Graham and Alex Sanders, the president of the College of Charleston for the seat of Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC). Sanders has made his education background a centerpiece of his campaign. Meanwhile, Graham was able to persuade House Republican leaders to schedule a vote on his teacher loan forgiveness bill which passed a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, another important Senate race is in New Hampshire where Rep. John E. Sununu (R-NH) is squaring off against Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. In a recent community forum, the candidates traded punches on the issue of education with Shaheen criticizing Sununu’s record on education. For his part, Sununu said that no one in New Hampshire believes that the State’s education funding crisis has been solved during Shaheen’s term as governor.

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