As a result of last week’s election, 2011 could be a watershed year for education reform and school choice. Many conservative candidates in the states campaigned on returning to local control in education and expanding school choice options for parents. Several states in particular could see significant movement on the education reform front as new leadership takes the helm in the coming months.
In Arizona, incoming superintendent John Huppenthal bested Penny Kotterman, whom the American Federation for Children notes would have worked to roll-back school choice options for Arizona families. Notably, Kotterman, the former head of the Arizona teachers union, was the chief plaintiff in the landmark Kotterman v. Killian school choice case challenging the legality of the Arizona tax credit program. While Kotterman argues that vouchers and tax credits are “detrimental” and “irresponsible” policy, superintendent-elect Huppenthal is a staunch supporter, telling the Arizona Republic:
First and foremost, I’m about school choice. There’s no school that can be excellent for every child. So in order for every child to get an excellent education, we have to get excellent school choice.
The outcomes in Florida also mean that support for school choice will be strengthened. The Sunshine State—as we’ve detailed here, here and here—has been a leader in education reform over the past decade. Governor-elect Rick Scott is likely to build on Florida’s success and is a strong proponent of school choice, including vouchers, charter schools, and an expansion of virtual education options. In his education platform, Governor-elect Scott writes:
I want to build an education framework that is student-centered, allowing education to be customized to fit the unique needs of each student and family. Every parent should have the choice to decide which delivery method and what provider is best to meet the needs and learning abilities of their children. Simply stated, parental choice is a crucial element of this new era in education. It is a catalyst to help all other reform measures work more effectively.
Moreover, the American Federation for Children notes that Pam Bondi “defeated the vehemently anti-school choice State Senator Dan Gelber to become the Sunshine State’s next Attorney General.”
In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels could have the support of both the Indiana House and the Senate when promoting school choice options and education reform proposals. The Republican-controlled House will be led by Brian Bosma, a strong school choice proponent, who would likely back school choice proposals set forth by Governor Daniels, such as vouchers for low-income children. The Evansville Courier Press reports that Daniels is considering a wide array of education reforms and that State Superintendent Tony Bennett supports Daniels’s education proposals “without question.”
In Ohio, John Kasich, a school choice proponent, defeated Governor Ted Strickland. This will likely mean renewed support for the state’s school choice programs, including the Autism Scholarship Program, the EdChoice scholarship program, and the Cleveland voucher program. In addition to the support of Kasich, Ohio families will likely benefit from the support of the Ohio House of Representatives and the state Senate.
In Nevada, incoming Governor Brian Sandoval is not only a strong advocate for school choice; he also has big plans to implement many pieces of the successful Florida reform model. Education expert Matthew Ladner also notes that Sandoval plans to take a page from his election opponent, Rory Reid:
This was an especially interesting race from an education angle, as Sandoval called for Florida reforms, and Reid proposed weighted student funding. Sandoval read Reid’s education plan, and declared that it was a good plan, so he was going to do it and the Florida reforms.
Finally, Wisconsin will prove an exciting state to watch over the next year, as education reform promises to be on the agenda. Governor-elect Scott Walker is a strong supporter of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which last year empowered more than 20,000 students to attend a private school of their choice. Republicans also took control of both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, creating a ripe environment for education reform initiatives and school choice expansion.
Across the country, election results mean big opportunities for genuine education reform that empowers parents. Families are also likely to see education reform proposals in states like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Kansas—states in which the post-election climate is more favorable to reform and to school choice. To the benefit of parents, children, and taxpayers, 2011 could indeed shape up to be one of the most fertile climates for choice-based education reform in years.