Midterms Great For School Choice, Bad For Common Core

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Blake Neff Reporter
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A snap survey of insiders in the world of education policy finds that the vast majority think 2014’s midterms have paved the way for an expansion in school choice opportunities, while simultaneously spelling bad news for Common Core’s ongoing implementation.

The survey was conducted by Whiteboard Advisors, an educational policy consulting firm. They polled about 75 major insiders in the world of education policy, a group that includes current and former Department of Education personnel, congressional staffers, think tank heads, and state policy chiefs. The anonymous survey doesn’t just catalogue overall sentiments, but also allows them to anonymously express their thoughts on key issues.

The insiders were asked how Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections shifted the field for six different education issues. Agreement was nearly universal that the Republican wave was good news for school choice policies such as vouchers and expanded charter schooling, with over 80 percent agreeing those policies were more likely to be implemented and not a single person thinking they would be hindered. Similarly, over half think that Republican victories will encourage efforts to reform teacher tenure by making it harder to obtain and easier to lose.

On the other hand, over 75 percent think the election was bad news for Common Core, with wins by Core skeptics in states like Arizona and Maryland increasing the chances the controversial standards will be repealed or at least delayed. Over half also think that the midterm was bad for state higher education funding, as GOP governors are likely to pursue restrained fiscal policies that limit how much money goes to colleges.

Insiders were also asked how the GOP takeover of the Senate would play out in education. While education has flown under the radar nationally compared to ObamaCare, immigration reform, and ISIS, a plurality of insiders, 48.6 percent, expect that Sen. Lamar Alexander’s takeover of the Senate Education committee will make higher education a bigger priority in the Senate. Alexander has previously served as Secretary of Education and as president of the University of Tennessee, and his influence could lead to several notable measures moving to the Senate floor. In particular, numerous insiders think the Republican win spells doom for the controversial gainful employment rule released just days before the election. The rule would threaten to cut off student loans to for-profit colleges if their students are found to have insufficiently strong job prospects upon graduating.

“Republicans are going to flex their muscle on the gainful employment reg[ulations] recently released by US Dept. of Ed.,” said one anonymous insider. Another was more succinct. “RIP gainful employment.”

The insiders were split on the national importance of the California superintendent race, which was the highest-profile and most expensive downballot race in the country. Incumbent Tom Torlakson defeated fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck in a grueling race that pitted entrenched teacher union interests against aggressive center-left reformers. While the win was solitary bright spot in an election night that otherwise went quite badly for teachers, insiders were split on its broader importance, with only a tiny minority labeling it “very significant” and most saying it was of moderate significance at best. Some pointed out that the race was largely symbolic as California’s superintendent has few powers, while others said the close race does little to reassure unions that their long-term influence in the Democratic party is secure.

“How significant is the canary in the coal mine?” one insider said anonymously.

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