Education & Elections, how POLITICO missed the mark

Education & Elections, how POLITICO missed the mark

POLITICO’s story, “GOP schooled on education politics,” falls far short of conveying the reality of the midterm elections, the impact education is having on this cycle, and leaves readers largely uniformed. The story is driven entirely on spending by the nation’s teachers’ unions and does not take into account facts on the ground. It centers around the allegation that Republicans, because of their policy decisions, are now playing defense on education. The reality: Teachers’ unions are spending as much as $80 million (possibly more than a hundred million dollars when it is all said and done) to attack Republican supporters of education reform, while defending Democrats who support the status quo in education.

The first race the story discusses is the Cory Gardner – Mark Udall senate race in Colorado, citing an attack ad the NEA released on Sept. 23. At that time, according to Real Clear Politics, Udall lead 44-43, but the week of the attack, Udall slipped in the polls while Gardner remained constant. Today, Gardner leads Udall 46-43. The POLITICO story cites another NEA attack, this time against Tom Cotton in Arkansas. Since Oct. 3, when the NEA released its ad against Cotton, he has remained nearly constant in the polls at 45 percent and today leads by 3+ points while Sen. Mark Pryor dropped in the polls by two points. POLITICO’s assertion might be correct: The NEA attacks are having an impact, but not likely the impact the NEA had expected. Both in Colorado and Arkansas, pro-education reform candidates remained steady after the attacks, later expanding their leads, while in both instances the pro-teachers union candidate saw an immediate drop in the polls following the attack.

The story also cites the Scott Walker – Mary Burke race in Wisconsin as another example of Republicans “playing defense” on education. But, the story fails to remind voters that when Mary Burke decided to run for Governor, progressives in Wisconsin were nervous due to her support for some charter schools and as a candidate,  Burke has tried to have to have it both ways on vouchers, claiming she’s fine with the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs but opposes the new statewide program. And, while teacher unions are pouring millions into the race, Burke continues to struggle to overtake Walker in the polls.

Another misleading portion of the story is its complete misread of the Florida gubernatorial race. The one issue that’s causing Crist a considerable amount of trouble is his flip-flop on the school choice. There have been a series of stories about black ministers upset with Crist’s decision, never mind the impact it could have on the Orthodox Jewish community and Hispanic community, both of whom have constituencies that benefit greatly from Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

In addition, POLITICO completely ignored other races. In Illinois, Republican pro-education reform candidate Bruce Rauner is in a tight racein a state that Pres. Obama won by 17 points in 2012. In Connecticut, pro-education reform candidate Tom Foley, who has been attacked for his support of school choice and education reform, is leading the teachers’ union choice candidate, Gov. Dan Malloy, in a state where Pres. Obama won by 17 points in 2012. And, in the bellwether state of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich has been attacked for expanding the state’s educational choice programs and leads his opponent by as much as 22 points. The story also fails to mention that the Democratic nominee in Rhode Island who was opposed by the state’s two largest teachers’ unions, and over the weekend, Martha Coakley, who is in a surprisingly tight race, “riled” the state’s teacher unions be reaffirming her support for charter schools.

What’s really going on? Nationally, teachers’ unions are on the defensive, their anti-reform/pro-status quo message is failing to resonate with voters. Despite teachers’ unions pouring $80 million into races, their message is a liability and in tight races, you won’t find a single candidate running on the pro-status quo, anti-reform agenda espoused by the nation’s largest teachers’ unions.

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Matt Frendewey is the national communications director to the American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice.