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Wash. State Rejects Charter Law; Several States Defeat Aid Plans

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Voters in Washington state decisively rejected in the Nov. 2 elections a recently passed law that would have opened the door to the state’s first charter schools. Voters there also defeated a tax measure aimed at hiking education spending by some $1 billion a year. That plan’s defeat was among several blows that voters nationwide dealt to state ballot measures to increase school funding.

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See the accompanying item, “Table: Ballot Initiatives ”

The Washington state spending plan would have raised the state sales tax by 1 percentage point to finance new preschool services, smaller class sizes, and college scholarships. The plan garnered 39 percent of the vote, according to the Washington secretary of state’s office.

“We didn’t make the sale,” said Lisa McFarlane, the president of the League of Education Voters, the Seattle-based group that sponsored the sales-tax measure.

Besides rejecting the funding measure, 58 percent of voters in Washington state turned thumbs down on a measure that would have allowed the state’s charter school law to go into effect.

The resounding defeat of charter schools hinged on personal campaigning by teachers, not on money, said Charles Hasse, the president of the 77,000-member Washington Education Association, which contributed half the money for the $1 million effort against the measure. That campaigning helped turn the tide on the charter school repeal, which had initially seemed headed for failure, he said.

"We found a big change among parents of school-aged children—those were people our members were talking to on a regular basis,” Mr. Hasse said.

In Alabama, a ballot measure to strike state constitutional language requiring segregated schools and declaring that children don’t have a right to education was still undecided in the morning after the Nov. 2 election. With all of the state’s 2,577 voter precincts reporting, the measure trailed by 3,400 of the 1.3 million votes cast. Opponents argued that by giving students a constitutional entitlement to a K-12 education, the state would open the door to school finance lawsuits.

Mixed Verdicts on Funding

Elsewhere, advocates of increased school funding largely suffered defeats in efforts to either increase or preserve spending in a number of states.

Nevada voters appeared to have rejected a ballot question that would have required the state to finance K-12 schools at the national per-pupil average by the 2012-13 school year. In 2001-02, the state ranked 46th among states in per-pupil funding. The Nevada State Education Association sponsored the measure. With almost all precincts reporting, the measure had received 49 percent of the vote.

In a separate Nevada ballot question, voters gave initial approval to a measure that would require the state legislature to pass an appropriations bill for education before any other budget area. Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, a Republican, sponsored the measure because last year schools delayed critical spending while the legislature debated how to generate money for schools. The measure garnered 56 percent of the vote. Before the ballot question is enacted, voters must approve it again in 2006.

In Arkansas, two-thirds of voters rejected an effort that would have allowed school districts to raise property-tax rates by 3 mills—or 3 cents for every $100 in assessed value.

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that will require all money from motor—vehicle sales and fuel taxes to be spent on transportation infrastructure—a measure education groups contend will direct funding away from schools.

In a victory for school funding advocates, Oklahoma voters approved measures that will create a new state lottery and dedicate the revenue from it to schools. Both measures passed with about two-thirds of the vote.

And in Maine, a coalition of education, public-safety, and other groups beat back a property-tax cap that they said would have resulted in serious cuts in schools and other municipal projects.

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