Score One For The Kids: Washington and Georgia Produce An Election Night Highlight

The good news on election night came from the states of Washington, and Georgia, where residents voted to expand educational choices for children.
You’ve probably seen the post-election headlines:  private sector employers in the U.S. have begun slashing jobs, attributing their economic hardship to President Obama’s healthcare and environmental policies.  But did you hear how some Americans actually voted for some really good things – things that can make for a brighter future?

It’s sad to see what our country has chosen.  Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to “bankrupt” the coal industry (if you don’t believe me watch the video on Youtube), and the Obamacare taxes and fees levied against healthcare technology companies are downright onerous. So once it was evident that we chose  “more of the same” last Tuesday, it was not surprising to see both the coal energy and healthcare technologies industries announcing thousands of layoffs – they simply can’t afford to continue operating at the same pace, given the President’s policies.

But the good news on election night came from the states of Washington, and Georgia, where residents voted to expand educational choices for children.  This is to say that a state which overwhelmingly voted to re-elect President Obama (Washington), and a state that overwhelmingly voted to replace the President with Mitt Romney (Georgia), actually both agreed that increasing kids’ education options by expanding the number of charter schools is an across-the-board good thing.

Charter schools, if you are unfamiliar, are k-12 schools that are partially funded with taxpayer dollars (and partially with private donations), but are usually managed by private individuals and organizations.  While each state has their own precise rules, generally speaking charter schools can reach beyond the bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all constraints of the local school district and customize their educational content and approach.

That’s why many charter schools offer academic specialties.  Got a kid with an interest in engineering?  Some charter schools offer an emphasis in science and mathematics.  Does your son or daughter want to be a film maker?  A charter school with a fine arts concentration might be a good choice.

The important point is that kids and parents should have these choices available. Charter schools allow people’s tax dollars to be put to use in ways that address the unique needs of students and parents, first and foremost, and in ways that the often self-serving established public schools don’t. Fortunately, Georgians and Washingtonians voted last week to allow even more of these options to flourish.

However, not every good effort to ensure wise use of educational tax dollars was rewarded last week. In Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota, voters lashed out against state policies that forced local school districts to be transparent with how they spend taxpayer dollars and negotiate labor union contracts, and which provided educational technology in public school classrooms. Initiatives like these may seem like good ideas- and objectively they are-but if you’ve got enough money to spend on advertising, you can successfully portray them as evil.

Who, really, wants to argue that educational tax dollars should be spent on things that don’t benefit students?  And who, really, wants to argue against government transparency?

Nobody would try to campaign on these points.  But if you’re the AFL-CIO and your teacher’s union members are vested in the status quo, then you want nothing to do with transparency in government, and you certainly don’t want your union members to have to adapt to the “change” of using more computers.

So big labor spent millions in advertising dollars demonizing the education reform laws in Idaho, Indiana and South Dakota, while trashing the policy makers that brought them about.  Scrutinizing the negotiation of labor union contracts was equated to “hating teachers,” while using online computer technology was characterized as “trading teachers with laptops”  – and the costs of the computers were allegedly going to bankrupt the respective states, according to the teachers’ union’s advertisements.  
A quick price comparison between an inexpensive laptop computer purchased in bulk (with enough digital space to store several digital textbooks) and a single hardbound text book suggests that school districts could actually save money with more computers.  And expanded internet access can allow kids in the most rural of regions to connect with world class educational content from top universities. But neither of these realities mattered. This wasn’t about the kids, it was about the labor unions – and on election night voters in all three states chose the union’s agenda.

Both the expansion of charter schools, and enhancing transparency and technology in traditional schools, are fundamentally economic agendas: both initiatives have to do with a more efficient use of taxpayer money, and spending money for its intended purposes (improving kids’ education).

Yet one agenda was embraced (by both a “red” and “blue” state), and the other was rejected.  The charter school movement has become so successful and popular that even the AFL CIO usually can’t stop it (although unions generally hate charter schools because they produce better academic results while spending less money). But scrutinizing – let alone “changing”-conventional public schools is apparently too uncomfortable.  So in three relatively “conservative” states, voters chose with education reform like a majority of voters around the country chose for presidential leadership:  they opted for “more of the same.”

Let’s hope that government transparency (even for school districts), and a respect for private enterprise, can become acceptable agendas like charter schools – so more Americans will stop choosing “more of the same.” 
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