Education

Voters Widely Support Education Measures

By Robert C. Johnston — November 06, 2002 4 min read
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Despite the nation’s troubled economic times, voters across the country approved several state and local ballot measures Nov. 5 that call for billions of dollars in new spending on school programs for students of all ages.

Meanwhile, the string of state-ballot victories by foes of bilingual education was broken in Colorado, where a surge of last-minute spending helped defeat a measure there that would have all but ended bilingual education. A similar ballot proposal passed easily in Massachusetts, however.

Elections 2002

Voters in California and Arizona passed initiatives in 1998 and 2000, respectively, that significantly curtailed bilingual education in those states.

As of late this morning, victors were declared in all of the 36 gubernatorial races except for Oregon, where the outcome was too close to call.

Despite projections that Democrats would capture the majority of governors’ seats, it appeared that Republicans would lose just two seats to control 25 governorships, while Democrats took the reins in three additional states, giving them control in 24 states.

Since the mid-1990s, Republicans have dominated the governors’ ranks, giving the GOP a powerful role in state education policy.

Education Favored

Two of the biggest-ticket ballot measures were approved in Florida.

Just over 60 percent of voters in the Sunshine State said yes to Constitutional Amendment 8, which calls on the state to offer statewide, voluntary preschool programs by the 2005-06 school year. The measure, which could cost more than $625 million a year, was backed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who won his re-election bid.

With a narrow 52 percent favorable vote, Floridians also approved Constitutional Amendment 9, an initiative that gives the state until 2010 to lower class sizes to 18 pupils in grades K-3, to 22 students in grades 4-8, and to 25 students in high school.

Gov. Bush opposed that measure, arguing that the price tag, which is estimated to range anywhere from $8 billion to $27 billion over that phase-in period, would be too great.

In another education vote, Florida narrowly passed Constitutional Amendment 11, which creates local 13-member boards of trustees to administer each state university, as well as a 17-member board to coordinate the university system. That measure derails the state’s move to a more unified governance structure for education from kindergarten through graduate school.

California Gold

California also turned a generous eye toward its public schools.

Proposition 47, which supported $13 billion in school construction funding for K-12 and higher education facilities, passed with 60 percent of the votes.

Meanwhile, Hollywood tough-guy Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed his muscle in successfully pushing a measure that calls on the state to set aside $550 million for after-school tutoring, homework assistance, and other enrichment activities. Proposition 49 won with a majority of about 57 percent.

In Michigan, voters turned town an initiative that sought to redirect nearly $300 million in revenue from the state’s tobacco-lawsuit settlement from a college-scholarship program to health- related efforts. The measure lost by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1.

Elsewhere, the results were split in the closely watched initiatives in Colorado and Massachusetts to roll back bilingual education programs.

Colorado voters easily defeated Amendment 31, which would have required that public school students be taught in English and that English-learners be placed in English-only immersion programs.

Efforts to defeat the measure were bolstered by a last-minute, $3 million donation that helped opponents flood the airwaves with ads critical of the measure, which ultimately lost by 61 percent to 39 percent. The outcome was different in Massachusetts, where bilingual education foes celebrated their third statewide ballot win, capturing 68 percent of the votes.

Both initiatives were written and backed by California businessman Ron K. Unz, who had launched the similar initiatives that passed in California and Arizona.

In the South, cash-strapped Tennessee can now look toward a state lottery to help pump up its sagging revenues: By a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent, the voters favored lifting the state’s constitutional ban on lotteries. Lawmakers there have talked about using lottery proceeds to pay for college scholarships.

Local Results

Meanwhile, in local elections, Cleveland voters gave their resounding support to a 4-year-old system by which the mayor chooses a chief executive officer for the school system and appoints the nine-member school board. Unofficial results showed 72 percent of voters favored Issue 4, and 28 percent opposed it. The city’s approval of the ballot measure means that the mayoral-control system stays in place indefinitely. The current CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, recently signed a two- year contract extension. She had said she would depart if voters chose to return to an all-elected school board.

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