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StudentsFirst Electoral Activity in 2012

UPDATE:  After counting provisional and military ballots, the results of two races, both in Maine, have changed.  The changes reflected below bring StudentsFirst overall general election win ratio to 86 of 105 races for a win rate of 81.9% (up from 84/80%) and 13 of 13 Democratic candidates supported (up from 12).  The total seats flipped from non-reform to reform seats remains at 33.


TO: Interested Parties
FROM: StudentsFirst
DATE: November 8, 2012
RE: StudentsFirst electoral activity in 2012

2012 was StudentsFirst's second year of operation and first full election cycle.  Despite being relatively new to the education reform space, and with the expectation that we will have even more robust electoral activity in coming years, StudentsFirst supported over 100 candidates on a bi-partisan basis and a half-dozen hotly contested ballot initiatives through direct contributions and independent expenditures this cycle.

In approaching this year's races we sought out a strategy that would have a significant impact not only on the 2012 cycle, but also on election cycles to come.

Accordingly, in choosing individual races, we considered three factors:

  • A candidate's commitment to reforming the shortcomings of the public education system with student-centric policies as expressed by the StudentsFirst policy agenda;\
  • Our potential impact in affecting the outcome of the race; and
  • The impact of the race in promoting the cause of reform more broadly.

Overall, StudentsFirst-supported efforts - including both direct and independent expenditures - fared well this year.  Supporting candidates on a bi-partisan basis, StudentsFirst had an eight-in-ten success rate.  Importantly, these efforts sent a strong message that education reformers will have the resources to compete against special interest-backed candidates in future years.

Of the 105 candidate races we participated in during the general election, StudentsFirst-supported candidates won 86 seats for a win rate of 81.9 percent.  These represent unique races where StudentsFirst endorsed a candidate or supported him/her with an IE in the general election.  In addition, StudentsFirst supported four candidates in primary races that were projected to be more competitive than the general election. Of those, three StudentsFirst-backed candidates also went on to win on Tuesday.

Significantly, and in line with our objective to ensure races we played in had a larger structural impact outside of the election itself, StudentsFirst entered the cycle with a specific goal of "flipping" non-reform seats to reform-minded seats.

In addition to defending proven reformers, StudentsFirst consciously played in a number of open-seat and challenger races to work toward this goal.

Of the 32 open-seats StudentsFirst played in on Tuesday with direct contributions- 26 supported candidates were victorious.  Of the six challenger races, StudentsFirst-supported candidates carried three seats.  Similarly, StudentsFirst IEs helped win two open-seats on Tuesday.  Two candidates supported in the primaries with IEs who went on to win the general were also contesting open-seats.

In all of the races StudentsFirst participated in, there are now 33 seats in the hands of reformers that were non-reform seats before this cycle began.

Adding to new faces in support of reform, StudentsFirst supported 13 Democratic education reformers with direct contributions. As of the latest count, all 13 won their races on Tuesday.

In states where StudentsFirst's organizing is highly active based on prior legislative pushes - Georgia, Michigan and Ohio - three StudentsFirst-supported ballot measures were also passed Tuesday night.  StudentsFirst supported unsuccessful ballot efforts in Connecticut, as well as Idaho and South Dakota - two states where we did not have "boots-on-the-ground."

While it is unlikely that StudentsFirst will be able to match the dollars available with those spent by forces vested in the status quo - the latest public disclosures show that teachers unions spent over $8 million in the 10 independent expenditure races and ballot initiatives StudentsFirst was involved in alone - we were able to help ensure reform-minded candidates and initiatives were highly competitive and produced results at a much more effective and efficient rate.

On the ground - not including all primary races - StudentsFirst candidates were supported with at least 970,000 pieces of StudentsFirst mail hitting voter mailboxes, 149,000 doors knocked by StudentsFirst canvassers and 453,000 calls made in support of education reformers from StudentsFirst call centers.

For a list of primary election candidates endorsed by StudentsFirst click here.

Below are examples from a few states and races demonstrating StudentsFirst electoral work this cycle:

With more than $280,000 spent on a targeted mail program and GOTV, StudentsFirst helped Democrat Cheryl Brown stage an improbable comeback to win her race for the open seat in California's 47th State Assembly District. Brown is a parent, former member of her local Parent Teacher Association, and former member of San Bernardino's First Five Commission, where she advocated for early childhood education programs. Brown faced an opponent with high name recognition and a 21-point lead in September, and who enjoyed at least $370,000 in publicly reported financial support from special interest groups across the state.

StudentsFirst local affiliate GNEPSA made a $32,000 independent expenditure on behalf of Democratic education reformer Brandon McGee in his targeted primary in the 5th Assembly District, which included an aggressive GOTV program.  He defeated his opponent Leo Canty, a teacher's union official, by less than 200 votes.

In Florida, StudentsFirst candidates won eight of 11 contested races we participated in on Tuesday, despite being outspent 5-to-1 by special interest vested in protecting the status quo. StudentsFirst helped several reform-minded champions defend highly targeted challenges and filling four previously non-reform seats with reformers.

In Georgia, candidates from both parties backed by StudentsFirst won a total of nine of nine contested elections. War veteran and political newcomer, Hunter Hill was the primary recipient of our member efforts in the highly contested Senate District 6 election. StudentsFirst contributed $226,426 to his campaign in independent expenditures alone. Hill prevailed, winning his election by 4 percent. StudentsFirst also helped pro-reform Democrats Representatives Alisha Thomas Morgan and Sheila Jones defend their seats earlier this cycle.

Additionally, StudentsFirst helped Georgia parents expand access to innovative public charter schools with $250,000 in independent expenditures toward the effort to pass the Georgia Charter School amendment.

In Michigan, StudentsFirst and its coalition partners soundly defeated ballot Proposal 2 by a margin of 58-42 percent, overcoming an avalanche of special interest spending and beating back an effort to turn back the clock on over 100 state laws, including critical school reforms passed by the legislature to improve teacher quality.

In state legislative races, a bi-partisan group of reform-minded candidates endorsed by StudentsFirst in 19 of 23 key races, claimed victory in their campaigns for the Michigan statehouse, including six open-seats.

Though several faced well-financed opposition, and districts whose partisan composition had changed due to redistricting, candidates backed by StudentsFirst won in 13 of 15 races, including three open-seats and one challenger.

On Tuesday, Nevada voters sent a number of pro-education reform leaders to Carson City to fight for policies that put students interests first. Though each faced well-financed opposition, candidates backed by StudentsFirst won in five out of seven races, including four open seats.

In Ohio, state legislative candidates backed by StudentsFirst won six of seven contested races on the direct side. StudentsFirst also successfully worked with coalition partners in Ohio to help pass the Cleveland school levy- a temporary measure supported by Mayor Frank Jackson to fund critical reforms in Cleveland's public schools- that voters approved by a margin of 57 to 43 percent. StudentsFirst was proud to join a diverse coalition supporting the levy that included Mayor Jackson, Gov. John Kasich, state Sen. Nina Turner, the Cleveland Teachers Union, and local business, civic and faith-based organizations.

StudentsFirst also supported 24th House District Candidate Stephanie Kunze, in her open seat race against a hand-picked special interest candidate, Maureen Reedy.  Kunze, a Hilliard City Councilwoman, with the help of StudentsFirst's independent expenditure, was able to run on the message that a strong economy starts with stronger schools. Kunze won this race 52 to 48 percent. StudentsFirst spent approximately $250,000 to run a full campaign effort in support of Kunze that included micro-targeting, mail, radio, phones and an aggressive canvass.  While we won't know the total of the last minute special interest spending on behalf of Reedy until end of the year filings, we do know that they spent over $300,000 in one attack ad alone.

Reform-minded candidates endorsed by StudentsFirst, again on a bi-partisan basis, won 9 of 11 contested races, including an open-seat win in House District 74.  StudentsFirst's efforts also helped Democratic Representatives Kevin Boyle and Jaret Gibbons - two proven reformers with a track record of putting students first - win their re-election bids.

StudentsFirst invested in 12 contested races decided in Tennessee on Tuesday, winning 10. StudentsFirst supported candidates who won races in seven open-seats and helped to re-elect Senator Delores Gresham, Chair of the Education Committee. StudentsFirst was the largest campaign contributor in the primary, providing over $379,000 to pro-reform candidates, and made an additional $35,000 contribution in the general election.

This election cycle, capped by Tuesday night's returns, sends a strong signal that education reform-minded candidates will enjoy a more even playing field moving forward.

Education reformers can take courageous positions on education issues with the comfort of knowing that they will have the financial and grassroots support needed to be competitive with the status quo those positions challenge.


Contact: mediarequests@studentsfirst.org