While there were only a small number of elections and referendums at stake on Tuesday, some of them had big implications for public charter schools:
1. Virginia will likely remain closed to charter schools. When outgoing Governor Robert McDonnell won Virginia’s gubernatorial election in 2009, charter supporters had high hopes that the state would finally enact some meaningful improvements to its weak charter school law. It didn’t. Four years later, Virginia still has one of the weakest charter school laws in the country (it’s ranked #39 out of 43 in our most recent rankings report).
In this year’s election, of the two major party candidates, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli emerged as the lone charter school backer. Unfortunately (for the future of public charter schools in Virginia), he lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday. Although McAuliffe’s former boss, President Bill Clinton, was an early supporter of charters, McAuliffe himself has failed to show the same kind of leadership for innovations and options in public education. It is likely that at the end of McAuliffe’s four-year term, Virginia will still have one of the nation’s weakest charter school laws.
2. New Jersey is in a position to move forward on legislative improvements to charter school law. With Tuesday’s gubernatorial and legislative elections in New Jersey behind us, the years-long effort to improve the state’s charter school law may finally gain traction. Governor Chris Christie, a charter supporter, won by a wide margin and in his acceptance speech said that fixing the state’s broken education system is a top priority. With the Democrats remaining in control of the legislature, enacting charter legislation will require a bipartisan effort. Let’s hope that Governor Christie’s possible presidential aspirations propel him to show the country how to get things done with the opposite party.
3. The uncertain future for New York City’s charters becomes official. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio won on Tuesday, ushering in what is certain to be a new day for charters in the city. The question is, “how new?” Will he stick by his earlier statements and limit the expansion of charters, stop co-locating charters with other public schools in district buildings, and start charging rent to public charter schools using district school buildings? Or will he define “new” by making some improvements to the city’s innovative co-location process, keeping the city open to new charters, and ensuring public school buildings are rent-free for all public schools? Our hope is that the mayor-elect spends some serious time with the students, parents, teachers, and leaders of the city’s public charter schools so he will see firsthand the important role they’re playing in educating the city’s schoolchildren.
4. Boston will now have a mayor that supports lifting caps on the state’s highest performing charters. In a sign that shows how far the charter school movement has come, each of the two finalists for mayor in Boston supported charter schools. According to the Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Association, as State Representative, now mayor-elect Marty Walshtestified in favor of a bill that would eliminate caps on charter school growth in the state’s lowest performing districts. He also served on the Board of Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester for 17 years, and often cited his experience at Neighborhood House on the campaign trail. While Walsh’s opponent, City Councilor John Connolly, advocated for a more aggressive overhaul of the city’s school system, Walsh has a consistent track record of pushing for meaningful reform of the city’s schools, including the growth of the state’s highest performing charters. Mayor-elect Walsh’s advocating for a lift of charter school caps should provide a boost to the legislative effort to pass a bill.
5. Colorado charter schools will continue to operate under the state’s current inequitable school funding system.Colorado voters made clear on Tuesday that they don’t support raising taxes to provide more funding for public education in the state. By an overwhelming margin of 65% to 35%, they rejected Amendment 66, which would have provided $950 million in new taxes to fund State Bill 213, a significant overhaul of the state’s school finance system. Among other new education spending, Amendment 66 would have better funded charter schools that serve at-risk students and provided significant support for charter school facilities costs. All’s not lost, though. The state has until November 2017 to get the voters to approve a way to fund the overhaul. If not, SB 213 dies.
6. Columbus charter schools won’t receive local tax dollars. Columbus voters soundly rejected a local tax increase that would have funded a planned overhaul of the city’s public education system. The planned overhaul (created by a 25-member task force convened by Mayor Michael Coleman) covered a wide variety of areas, including the sharing of local tax dollars with high-performing public charter schools. Voters in Columbus defeated the tax measure 69% to 31%, meaning charters will still fail to receive local tax dollars.
Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.