Education issues – charter public schools, funding, and courts – feature prominently in state elections

Education issues, which some have said are being slighted in the presidential campaigns, are nonetheless playing a stronger role in states.

We’ve written about the ballot measure in Massachusetts that would raise the cap on charter public schools. An article, “Charters, Civics, and Civil Rights,”  in U.S. News looks at the measure provides a powerful affirmation of the importance of charter public schools. The author, Charles Sahm, is director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute. He focuses on an address by U.S. Secretary of Education John King, who founded one of Boston’s first charter public schools. 

In a gentle rebuke to the NAACP leadership and those opposing the expansion of charters in Massachusetts, King said during a talk at the National Press Club that “any arbitrary cap on the growth of high-performing charters is a mistake in terms of our goal of trying to improve opportunity for all kids.”

Sahm adds,

(It’s also worth noting that representatives of the nation’s other venerable civil rights organization, the National Urban League, have come out in favor of raising the cap. And, on a related note, the National Urban League, the United Negro College Fund and Education Post recently released an interesting report “Building Better Narratives in Black Education” that showed that while there is overwhelming support for the basic tenets of education reform in the black community, there is also a desire for a more authentic, positive, forward-looking message.)

We’d also point out that the Tennessee NAACP chapter backs away from national call for charter pause.

Tennessee’s NAACP leaders on Tuesday distanced the state organization from its national board’s call for a moratorium on charter schools, even calling the charter-reliant work of the state-run school district “a progressive spot” in Memphis.

And while this year, Washington state doesn’t have a public charter school measure on the ballot, a pending lawsuit  by charter opponents led by the Washington Education Association continues to attract attention. The Washington State Charter Schools Association provides a wealth of helpful information on the lawsuit

Charter public schools and education funding also factor into state supreme court elections across the country. Washington’s court races have attracted significant attention and funding. In addition, the linked AP story reports,

A liberal political action committee called North Carolina Families First has spent more than $905,000 to try to flip control of the officially nonpartisan high court in favor of Democrats, according to ad buys tracked by the Brennan Center. In the past two years, the court’s Republican majority has upheld the use of taxpayer money for student scholarships at private schools…


In Kansas, conservatives hope to oust four justices who face retention elections just as the court considers cases related to abortion and education funding.

Charter school supporters as well as oil and gas companies are trying to influence the election for an open seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, setting a record for outside spending on a judicial race in that state.

In Oregon, two ballot measures touch on the public schools. Measure 97, which would impose a whopping increase in business taxes, has now become the state’s most expensive initiative campaign in history, topping $40 million. Also on the ballot is Measure 98, billed as a vehicle to boost high school graduation rates.

Let’s go back for a minute to Massachusetts, where polling shows a close charter vote.

The most recent Suffolk University poll shows Massachusetts voters evenly split (45 percent to 45 percent) on the question of whether the charter cap should be raised. It is interesting to note, however, that while white voters oppose raising the cap by 48 to 43 percent, nonwhite voters support raising the cap by a wide margin: 58 percent to 33 percent.

King’s remarks elevate the education policy discussion, according to Sahm, by drawing it into a larger context.

In his rather remarkable address, King, a man who credits public school teachers with saving his life, offered a positive, comprehensive civil rights vision that includes support for high-quality schools, be they charter or district, civics education and active citizenship. 

The state-level discussions will continue. We’ll all benefit if policymakers keep the discussion focused on expanding opportunities for students to receive the education they need to thrive. And, with that thought, Ready Washington is distributing posters to reinforce the understanding of what’s at stake.

 The posters were mailed in October to all middle schools, high schools, and skills centers throughout the state, along with a detailed one-pager that dives in deeper into college- and career-ready readiness. The goal is to encourage students to plan for their futures and aspire to earn a postsecondary credential, be it a technical or industry certification, 2-year or 4-year degree. Such a credential could earn them almost $1 million more over their lifetime.