Education and budget reform battles opening up in the states

There’s another bright side to Republicans’ victories aside from simply checking President Obama’s agenda: Republicans have taken over 500 state legislative seats nationwide, and there are now 26 states where they hold majorities in both legislative chambers. That’s not counting the governorships, either.

It means that the states are finally going to address the massive budgetary crises they face:

The slow-growing economy has also left many states confronting deficits that are forcing them to fire workers, cut spending on schools, welfare programs and public works, and raise taxes. The 39 states that made projections foresee a collective $112 billion of deficits for the 2012 fiscal year, a figure that is likely to swell once more estimates are made, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington.

Phrase that another way: Unaffordable defined-benefit pension plans for public employee unions are stepping up to the chopping block. Teacher union monopolies may be about to crumble. Look no further than Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich, who in a press conference today, said:

“We are 46th in putting dollars in the classroom and 9th in administrative overhead.  We need to figure out how to get more money in the classrooms.  And we need to get government to start operating like business.”

But don’t deny the force multiplier of other Republican states pushing budgetary austerity. States compete with each other for jobs. It’s hard to imagine that Kasich is going to allow New Jersey’s Chris Christie to make strides where he cannot.

But it’s not just in the executive branch. According to Education Week, school superintendents have gone hard Republican too:

Republicans captured superintendents’ offices in a number of states, in different regions of the country.

In Georgia, Republican John Barge, a school administrator, defeated Democrat Joe Martin and Libertarian Kira Griffiths Willis. In Oklahoma, Republican Janet Barresi, a former school speech pathologist who helped found charter schools in her state, won the superintendents’ contest over Democrat Susan Paddack and Independent Richard E. Cooper. And in Wyoming, Cindy Hill, a former junior high school principal, defeated Democratic state Sen. Mike Massie.

In Idaho, Republican Tom Luna outlasted Democrat Stan Olson, and in Arizona, Republican John Huppenthal, a state senator, won his contest against Democrat Penny Kotterman.

In South Carolina, Republican Mick Zais, a former college president, campaigned on creating tax credits for families to pay private school costs. He defeated Democrat Frank Holleman, who once served as an adviser to former South Carolina Gov. Richard W. Riley when he was U.S. secretary of education.

One of the most closely watched contests played out in California, where state assemblyman Tom Torlakson defeated former school administrator Larry Aceves in the race to replace term-limited schools chief Jack O’Connell. Mr. Torlakson has been supported by two major teachers’ unions, while his opponent had the backing of the Association of California School Administrators.

Education reform is about to unfold — in a very real way — and it’s going to be great.

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