Education issues will play a major role in several of Tuesday’s primaries across the United States.
On the Democratic side, education reformers hope to win a victory over enormously powerful, anti-reform teacher unions, while clashes on the Republican side pit establishment defenders of Common Core standards against a burgeoning popular movement against them.
In California, the race for state superintendent of education has proven remarkably brutal, and has seen more money spent than the gubernatorial race. Two Democrats, incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, are running a fiercely negative campaign that has largely ignored their mutual Republican foe Lydia Gutierrez.
Torlakson, an establishment figure, has the firm backing of the state’s enormous and powerful teacher union, the California Teacher Association, which has spent over $4 million on his behalf.
Tuck, on the other hand, represents a coalition of education reformers, and has backed new rules that would make it easier to fire teachers in the state and would delegate greater local control to school districts. Though he has been outspent and lacks the dedicated foot soldiers the CTA provides, he has been endorsed by nearly every newspaper in the state, and has proven sufficiently worrisome that the educational establishment has gone all-out to bury him.
Under California’s jungle primary system, the top two candidates advance, and in a strong Democratic state, it’s possible today’s vote could merely be a prelude to months of additional feuding between the two Democrats. Despite the huge volume of money spent on the race, no polling has been conducted to show how voting is likely to shake out. Torlakson, however, is hoping to clear the 50 percent threshold that will let him win the race outright without having to run again in November.
In Alabama, local primary battles are all about Common Core. The Republican-controlled state legislature and school board have defeated recent efforts to repeal or modify the controversial new standards in the state.
Now, establishment GOP candidates are hoping a grassroots effort against the controversial educational standards won’t result in several state lawmakers being unceremoniously booted from office. Three anti-Common Core candidates are contending for the state board of education, and if they are all victorious the standards could be endangered.
Several state legislators are under attack as well, including House speaker Mike Hubbard and president pro tempore of the Senate Del Marsh. They are expected to prevail, but in low-turnout primary races dedicated activists can be a powerful force, and even a close call could send a strong message regarding voter sentiment on the issue.
The anti-Common Core challengers have been bolstered by over $700,000 in PAC donations from unknown sources, and the Alabama Education Association, the state’s teacher union, has been coming out against the incumbents as well. Nonetheless, those in favor of Common Core have a significant monetary advantage.
The races should be a good bellwether of how strong grassroots activism against Common Core is in the Republican Party. A strong victory for the pro-Common Core incumbents would be a valuable victory for proponents, who have recently seen Indiana and South Carolina both abandon the standards, with Oklahoma potentially following soon.
South Carolina’s race is slightly more clear-cut, despite having eight candidates on the Republican side. All major contenders have expressed moderate to strong opposition against Common Core.
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