The results of voting on a pair of education-related issues in Georgia and California Nov. 6 could give Mississippi’s elected leaders an idea of how voters in The Magnolia State may be evolving in their views on charter schools and overall funding for education.
Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment allowing the state to override local school board rejections of charter applications. Californians decisively reversed years of anti-tax sentiment by agreeing to a sales tax hike to rescue the state’s education system.
Mississippi’s leaders may want to study the demographics of the voting results and the methods of persuasion used in the respective campaigns in Georgia and California. The conclusion is likely to be that conventional wisdom about charter schools and education funding may not be conventional, after all.
In Georgia, for instance, the voting results put doubt on the CW that voters in low-income minority communities would reject making charter school creation easier out of fears dollars would be diverted from public schools.
Here’s what the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported the day after the election:
In the passage of Amendment One the charter school measure, five counties in metro Atlanta provided 62 percent of the 625,133 margin of victory:
>>> DeKalb: Yes, by 81,784 votes;
>>> Cobb: Yes, by 83,204 votes;
>>> Gwinnett: Yes, by 74,626 votes;
>>> Fulton: Yes, by 111,733 votes;
>>> Clayton: Yes, by 39,503.
Journal Constitution political writer Jim Galloway notes the tallies indicate African-American voters ignored the most influential in their communities in strongly supporting the charter school amendment.
“We’ve received one estimate that the charter school measure won approximately 65 percent of the African-American vote in DeKalb, 64 percent in Fulton, and 72 percent in Clayton. This despite concerted opposition from the likes of the Rev. Joe Lowery; state Sen. Emanuel Jones of Decatur, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus; and state Sen. Vincent Fort of Atlanta,” Galloway wrote in a post-election report.
The amendment will change the Georgia constitution to make sure the state can approve charter schools and establish a commission to consider applications for them.
In California, Proposition 30 passed 53.9 percent to 46.1 percent — hardly a landslide, says the San Jose Mercury News, but more than anyone expected in what was supposed to be a very tight race. Some pollsters were even leaning toward predicting a defeat for the measure in the weeks before the election, the newspaper reported.
Gov. Jerry Brown said the vote showed the nation that Californians value education dearly and will pay to keep it from further decline. Brown campaigned for the tax with the message that the state had reached the breaking point on public education after schools had endured billions of dollars in cuts during the Great Recession.
In what some in California viewed as a hostage-taking of sorts, lawmakers approved and the governor signed $6 billion in automatic cuts a week before the Nov. 6 referendum that would go into effect if the initiative failed.
The voting outcome allowed Brown to insert the cuts bill into his office shredder and instead proclaim a victory for education in California.
“I know a lot of people had some doubts and some questions: Can you really go to the people and ask them to vote for a tax?’ Here we are. … We have a vote of the people, I think the only state in the country that says, ‘Let’s raise our taxes, for our kids for our schools, and for our California dream,”’ he said in a report published by the Mercury News.
Proposition 30 will raise the state’s sales tax by a quarter of a cent for four years starting Jan. 1 and increase income taxes for people who make at least $250,000 by up to 3 percentage points for seven years, retroactive to the start of the 2012 tax year. It is projected to raise an average of $6 billion, though Brown is counting on $8.5 billion.
No one can say Mississippi would have had the same voting results as Georgia and California on the charter schools and education funding issues. But the smart money – and true Conventional Wisdom – would say they likely would have. Mississippians value education every bit as much as Georgians and Californians and are equally as willing to shake up the status quo if that is what it takes to improve their struggling schools.
So keep Georgia and California in mind the next time you hear a Mississippi politician parrot whatever wisdom is considered conventional at the moment.