Education on the Ballot
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Updated Nov. 7, 2012, 6:30am MST
Education on the 2012 Ballot
Education issues loomed large on 2012 statewide ballots, with voters weighing in on tax increases to fund schools, teacher labor issues, and charter schools, as well as a number of issues affecting higher education.
Tax Increases to Fund Education
This was one of the leading themes in the 2012 crop of ballot measures, with measures on the ballot in five states.
In Arizona, voters rejected Proposition 204. This initiative would have made permanent a one cent per dollar sales tax increase that voters approved in 2010. It is set to expire in 2013. If approved, the revenue would have been divided among educational programs, public transportation infrastructure, and human services programs, with the majority of the revenue going to K-12 education. Prop. 204 would also have prevented the legislature from borrowing from or reducing these funds in the future.
In California, voters faced two competing tax increase initiatives that would benefit education; they approved Prop. 30 and rejected 38. Proposition 30, an initiative sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown, will temporarily increase the state sales tax for four years and the income tax on earnings over $250,000 for seven years. The state estimates that the increase will generate about $6 billion annually over the next few years, with the revenue going to support school funding and help balance the state budget. The competing measure, Proposition 38, would have increased personal income taxes for for most California taxpayers for the next 12 years. Prop. 38 was expected to raise around $10 billion per year, with the revenue going to public education, early childhood care and education, and state debt payments. If both measures had passed, the one receiving the higher number of raw "yes" votes would have been implemented.
In Missouri, a proposed tobacco tax increase that would help fund K-12 and higher education appears headed toward failure, although the margin is tight and results are incomplete: it stands at 49.2% "yes" in unofficial results.
Measure 85, approved by voters in Oregon, will divert refunds under the state's "corporate kicker" to K-12 education. The kicker requires that the state issue refunds for any corporate income tax revenue it collects in excess of a pre-determined cap. With the approval of Measure 85, corporate income and excise taxpayers will no longer receive a refund; instead, that amount will be diverted to education. Predicting the fiscal effects of Measure 85 are difficult because refunds haven't been issued in recent years, but the state estimates that if the measure had been in place for the past ten budget periods, the increases would have ranged from $101 million to $203 million in each of three of those periods.
In South Dakota, voters have rejected Initiated Measure 15. It would have increased the state sales tax from four to five percent, with the new revenue split evenly between K-12 education and Medicare.
Historically, voters have responded more favorably to proposed tax increases that benefit education than to other sorts of increases. Over the period 1992 - 2011, there were 75 proposed tax increases on statewide ballots, and voters approved 36 percent of them. Just 22 of those increases would have benefited education, however, and voters approved 40.9 percent of those. This year, there were six proposed tax increases that would have benefited education; voters approved just two of these, or 33.3%.
Voters in Georgia and Washington considered measures permitting the establishment of charter schools. The votes are in for Georgia, and voters have said "yes." The Washington proposal stands at 51.2% "yes" as of early Wednesday morning, but officials there will continue to count ballots over the coming week, so that's not a final result. Charter school initiatives appeared on the ballot there in 1996 and 2000, only to be rejected by voters both times. Then in 2004, the legislature passed a law authorizing charter schools. That law was overturned by a popular referendum in November 2004, and Washington remains among a minority of states that do not permit public charter schools.
Georgia already has public charter schools, and the proposal on the ballot there establishes a state commission to consider applications for charter schools. Currently, local school boards and the State Board of Education share the responsibility for approving charter school applications.
Teacher Labor Issues
Idaho voters rejected a three-part question dealing with teacher tenure, pay for performance, and classroom technology. These questions were popular referenda that successfully overturned laws passed by the legislature under the name "Students Come First" in 2011. The three separate questions were:
Proposition 1 - This portion of the law limited collective bargaining rights for teachers and eliminated tenure.
Proposition 2 - This set up merit pay for teachers in high-performing schools.
Proposition 3 - This is the fiscal piece of the plan. It changes the state's school funding formula to direct funds to the new teacher compensation schemes, and to improve technology in the classroom and online learning.
South Dakota voters also vetoed a new teacher labor law passed by the legislature. In this case, the law eliminated tenure, creates a new system for evaluation teachers, and sets up a teacher bonus program.
States With Education Measures on the 2012 Ballot