Education on the Ballot

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%.

Charter Schools
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

Key Ballot Measures

Tax Increases to Fund Education

Between 1992 and 2011, there were 22 statewide votes on tax increases that would fund education. Voters approved 40.9 percent of these, a higher approval rate than tax increases generally receive.

  • 1992:  Amendment 6 in Colorado would have increased the state sales tax from three to four percent and dedicated the revenue to K-12 education. It was rejected, receiving just 45.6% of the vote.
  • 1994:  Proposal A in Michigan increased the state sales tax from four to six percent and in return limited annual increases in property taxes. It promised a minimum per-pupil funding allowance. Proposal A was approved by 69.1 percent of voters.
  • 1996:  Proposition 217 in California would have reinstated the top income tax brackets in the state, with revenue divided between education and local government. It was rejected, receiving 49.2% of the vote.
  • 1998:  California voters approved Proposition 10, adding a surtax to tobacco products to fund early childhood health and education programs. Colorado voters rejected Referendum B, which would have allowed the state to keep excess revenues instead of refunding the money to taxpayers, and use it on transportation and K-12 and higher ed infrastructure projects. Montana voters approved LR-113, a tax levy that supports universities.
  • 2000:  Arizona voters approved Proposition 301, increasing the state sales and use tax by six-tenths of one percent for 20 years, with all of the new revenue going to education at the K-12 and higher ed levels.
  • 2002:  Utah voters soundly rejected Initiative 1, which would have imposed a new tax on radioactive waste and dedicated 80 percent of the revenue to education.
  • 2004:  Arkansas voters rejected a proposed increase in the statewide property tax that provides for the maintenance and operation of schools. Washington voters rejected an increase in the state sales tax to fund preschool through university education.
  • 2006:  2006 wasn't a good year for tax increases to fund education. Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment increasing property taxes that benefit schools in certain jurisdictions, so as to ensure that all school districts taxed at a certain base rate. California voters rejected Proposition 88, adding a $50 tax in each parcel of property and dedicating the revenue to K-12 education. Idaho voters rejected Proposition 1, which would have added one percentage point to the state sales tax for education.
  • 2008:  Colorado voters rejected two initiatives, Amendments 58 and 59, that would have sent more money to education. Florida voters rejected a local property tax increase to fund community colleges. In Montana, voters once again approved a tax levy to support universities.
  • 2010:  Perhaps recognizing the threat that the continuing poor economy might pose to public education, voters were more receptive than usual to tax increases to fund education. In Arizona, voters approved a temporary sales tax increase to fund education. Oregon voters agreed to raise certain income and corporate taxes for education, health and public safety. A new income tax on high-wage earners in Washington that would have benefited education was rejected.
  • 2011:  Colorado voters rejected a temporary sales tax increase to benefit education.

Charter Schools

Voters in Washington have weighed in on the authorization of charter schools three times since 1996, rejecting them each time. The first and second votes, in 1996 and 2000, were citizen initiatives seeking to authorize charter schools. The third vote, in 2004, was a popular referendum. The legislature had authorized charter schools that year, and the popular vote was an attempt to veto the legislature's bill. The veto attempt was successful, and the legislature's bill never took effect.

Higher Education

Ballot measures affecting higher education most often have to do with funding sources and public bonds. Between 1992 and 2011, voters considered 35 statewide bond questions totaling in excess of $25.5 billion for higher education. $23.98 billion of that proposed funding was approved, with just six percent of all proposed bonding benefiting higher ed rejected by voters over that period. Most often, the proposed bonds are intended to pay for infrastructure improvements, science and research, and scholarships.

Another key issue is affirmative action. Five states have approved measures banning the use of affirmative action in public hiring, contracts, and higher ed:  Arizona (2010), California (1996), Michigan (2006), Nebraska (2008) and Washington (1998). Colorado voters rejected a similar measure in 2008.

The role of immigration is sometimes highlighted on the ballot in measures dealing with higher education. For instance, in 2006, Arizona voters agreed to ban illegal immigrants from obtaining waivers, grants or other state-funded assistance to attend colleges or universities in the state.

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