Over the next two days, plenty of attention will be devoted to the Presidential election battle between incumbent Barack Obama and Republican standardbearer Mitt Romney. Just as much attention will focus on congressional and senate races, including the tight contest between former Virginia governors Tim Kaine and George Allen (who is running to regain the senate seat he last held six years ago). But for school reformers, the real election battles are happening at the state and local levels, with the direction of the battle to reform American public education being decided by a collection of races for state offices and legislative seats, as well as by a series of ballot initiatives. School reformers must do all they can to beat back  traditionalists (including affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) and keep tup the momentum for systemic reform.

Dropout Nation looks to help you make smart decisions this election day by providing you with some information on candidates you should support and ballot initiative you should vote for (or vote down). Read, consider, and most-importantly, vote this Election Day.

Candidates to Support

  • In Indiana: Tony Bennett for Superintendent of Public Instruction: Under his watch (and with the support of outgoing governor Mitch Daniels), the first-term state schools boss has ushered in numerous reforms, including on the teacher quality and school choice fronts. This, along with his support of Common Core reading and math standards, has not exactly thrilled either the state’s educational ancien regime, excited movement conservatives opposed to anything that looks like national curricula standards, or made happy philosophically conservative Hoosiers on both sides of the political aisle (who prefer to keep things as they are). It is why they have all rallied around Bennett’s rival, Democrat Glenda Ritz. But in a state in which two of its biggest school districts — Indianapolis Public Schools and Gary — are among the worst-performing in the nation — and in which the rest of the state’s traditional districts are mediocre at best, the state must stay the course on strong systemic reform. Bennett deserves a second term — and Hoosiers should give it to him.
  • In Washington State: Rob McKenna for Governor: Unlike his Democrat counterpart, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, who is in the thrall of the state’s NEA affiliate, McKenna would support systemic reforms — including allowing for the existence of charter schools. This, along with McKenna’s experience as the state’s attorney general, makes him the best choice for the chief executive spot.
  • In California, Ian Calderon for State Assembly: The political scion, who was mentioned by Dropout Nation earlier this year, would bring another much-needed voice for reform to a state legislature sadly lacking in them.
  • In New Hampshire, Ovide Lamontagne for Governor: The former teacher and onetime state education board chairman has taken the right positions on expanding school choice and creating new ways to improve teacher quality in the Granite State. This one is a no-brainer.
  • In California, Richard Bloom for State Assembly: The Santa Monica mayor isn’t exactly a reformer — and in fact, supports both the non-school reform plans contained in Propositions 30 and 38. On the other hand, he would be likely be less likely to do the bidding of the state’s NEA and AFT affiliates than incumbent Betsy Butler, who helped put the kibosh on Senate Bill 1530, the proposed teacher quality reform which would have allowed districts to removed teachers accused of molesting students.

Referenda to Back (or Vote Down)

  • In Washington State: Yes on Initiative 1240: There is no good reason why the home base of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains one of five states in which charters aren’t allowed to exist. Especially when traditional districts are doing a poor job of improving the achievement of poor and minority children in their schools. Approving Initiative 1240 would do plenty to expand high-quality opportunities for all children — and force traditionalists to accept the real definition of what public education is and should be.
  • In California: No on Prop. 30: As Dropout Nation noted last week, the proposed $50 billion increases in sales and income taxes will do little to spur the overhaul of the Golden State’s failing and mediocre traditional districts, and won’t force much-needed reform of a traditional teacher compensation system that burdens taxpayers without either helping children or rewarding good-to-great teachers. Voting no on Prop. 30, as well as voting down a similar plan in Prop. 38, is one step needed to force Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators to embrace systemic reform.
  • In California: Yes on Prop. 32: Curbing the use of dues payments teachers are forced to make to NEA and AFT affiliates in the Golden State (regardless of their personal preferences) to finance political activity simply makes sense. It would force the two unions to abandon the obsolete industrial union model to which they stubbornly adhere, and become the kind of professional associations teachers need in order to be successful in classrooms. It will also put an end to the obstructionism that has led California to lag behind other states in improving teacher quality, expanding Parent Power and school choice, and revamping school finance.
  • In Florida: Yes on Amendment 8: By supporting this proposed constitutional change, reformers will both expand school choice opportunities in the Sunshine State for all children, as well as abolish the state’s religious bigotry-driven and antiquated Blaine Amendment. It is time to realize that public education is about funding the best and widest array of educational opportunities for all children regardless of who they are or where they live, not about propping up district bureaucracies that condemn our poor and minority kids to economic and social despair.
  • In Georgia, Yes on Amendment 1: The proposed change to the Peach State’s constitution would move the authorizing of charters from traditional districts (and the school boards that operate them) to the state government. [Districts would still be able to authorize charters, but would be under more pressure from the presence of the state to do so.] This makes perfect sense. The idea of the district being the sole authority over a competing school operation is akin to McDonald’s deciding whether a Wendy’s can open next door. This was made clear last year with the successful effort by Fulton County’s school district to shut down the high-performing Fulton Science Academy (which embarrassed the district by earning federal Blue Ribbon recognition),. More importantly, given the struggles districts (especially massive failure mills) have in ensuring that charters under their watch are of high quality, it makes better sense to start moving oversight to the state level.
  • In Michigan, Yes on Proposal 1: Thanks to the Wolverine State’s recently beefed-up emergency financial manager law, the landfill of American public education that is the Detroit school district is now engaging in a much-needed overhaul. It has also allowed for the Wolverine State to force busted local governments to address the overspending and penchant for costly deal-making with public sector unions that have led to their fiscal collapse. Passing Proposal 1, which would keep the emergency manager law in place, makes the best sense. So vote yes.
  • In Michigan, No on Proposal 2: As DN has pointed out, collective bargaining is more of a symbolic tool for NEA and AFT affiliates, than a real source of influence; this is also largely true for other public sector unions. But the ability to force districts (and other local governments) to negotiate work arrangements with unions remains a powerful source of symbolism that the NEA and AFT use to convince teachers (who don’t realize that their work is more-often shaped by legislation and policymaking than by contract negotiations) of their value. More importantly, collective bargaining ends up being used to force districts to continue costly deals that do little for children, taxpayers, or teachers. Proposal 2, which would make collective bargaining required under the Wolverine State’s constitution, would do plenty of harm to everyone but education traditionalists and public-sector unions. For that reason alone, it should be voted down.
  • In Idaho: Vote Yes on Proposals 1 and 2: Gov. Butch Otter and Supt. Tom Luna made a strong stand for systemic reform last year when they convinced state legislators to pass two laws ending the requirement of districts to bargain with NEA affiliates. The NEA has responded by putting Proposals 1 and 2 on the ballot, which would roll back those reforms if voters vote no. Voting yes would sustain these reforms. That should be done.
  • In Bridgeport, Connecticut, Yes on Ballot One: For the past three decades, the hardscrabble Nutmeg State school district’s elected board has aided, abetted, and perpetuated educational neglect and malpractice upon the children it is supposed to serve. Yet the invisibility of school boards and elections — and the ability of the local NEA affiliate to keep the board under its thumb — has allowed this absence of school leadership to go unchecked. The plan in Ballot One to move control of the district from the board to the Bridgeport mayor would finally allow voters to know who is in charge of the traditional district (and hold one person accountable for success and failure), as well as rightfully charge the municipal chief executive with overseeing the district’s much-needed overhaul. This overhaul of school governance in Bridgeport is long overdue.
  • In Maryland, No on Question 7: Dropout Nation’s editors, especially Editor RiShawn Biddle (who lives in the land of crabcakes), have no problems with gambling per se. But this proposition, which is being sold as a way to finance schools, is anything but a smart way to provide stable funding. In short, the proponents of Question 7 are engaged in blatant dishonesty. Voters should knock it down.