Education Funding

Voters Defeat Funding Measures, But Also Refuse to Restrict Spending

By Linda Jacobson — November 08, 2006 5 min read
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Voters in some states didn’t show a lot of generosity toward schools as they voted down measures that would have provided more funding for education in Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio. But proposals in three states that had the potential to restrict spending on schools-the idea known as a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights-were rejected, early returns showed.

Meanwhile, Michigan voters approved a controversial plan to ban affirmative action in public programs. Similar to Proposition 209, which passed in California in 1996, the measure forbids giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, or ethnicity in public education, public employment, or contracting.

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Ward Connerly, the chairman of the American Civil Rights Coalition and the former member of the University of California board of regents who pushed for Proposition 209, was among the members of the group sponsoring the Michigan initiative. It was headed by Jennifer Gratz, whose 1997 lawsuit challenging the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions policies went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ruling in the case in 2003, the high court struck down the use of racial preferences for minorities at the university, which gave them a significant advantage on its point scale.

Mr. Connerly and other proponents argued that outreach programs to underrepresented groups, such as disadvantaged students, would still be allowed.

Opponents of the measure, however, said it has the potential to reverse years of progress in gender and racial equality, and will affect K-12 schools by making it illegal to target mathematics and science programs to girls, for example, or to try to recruit male teachers for the elementary grades.

Mr. Connerly’s campaign “ignored the reality of the cultural inequalities that permeate our state and our nation,” said David Waymire, a spokesman for One United Michigan, the group that tried to defeat the initiative. “He campaigned on fear, and we tried to campaign on hope. The effects of this are far-reaching.”

Funding Measures

In Ohio, voters turned down a proposal to allow the state to permit up to 31,500 slot machines at seven horse-racing tracks and two nontrack locations in Cleveland. The Earn and Learn amendment to the state constitution would have supported college scholarships and grants for students, but early returns showed the measure trailing, with about 42 percent of the vote.

In Idaho, voters rejected a 1-cent sales-tax increase, which would have pushed the state sales tax up to 6 percent. The additional revenue would have created the Idaho Local Public Investment Fund, to be used for classroom materials and supplies, teacher recruitment, and class-size reduction.

In Nebraska, even though voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed the proceeds of video “keno” gaming devices to be spent on K-12 education, they rejected a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, proposal that potentially would have limited funding for schools.

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TABOR proposals were also defeated in Maine and Oregon. A formula-driven cap of state and local spending, such measures are an effort to limit tax increases. But opponents say the amendments negatively affect education. Last year, voters in Colorado agreed to suspend for five years a TABOR that was approved in 1992.

A “65 percent solution” measure on the ballot in Colorado was defeated, early results were showing. Such policies have been promoted as a way to cut spending on administrative costs and direct more resources into the classroom. The measure was sponsored by the Colorado affiliate of First Class Education, a group chaired by Patrick M. Burke, the president of the shopping Web site, that has been working to enact the 65 percent solution around the country.

A separate but similar Colorado measure, sponsored by members of the state legislature, was also defeated. Election analysts had predicted that voters likely would be confused by having such similar proposals on the ballot, and would probably reject both.

California Facilities Bond

In California, Proposition 1D-a $10.4 billion bond issue for K-12 and higher education construction projects-appeared headed for victory. The money will be used to relieve overcrowding, build charter schools, improve earthquake safety at schools, and build more vocational education facilities.

The measure is part of newly re-elected Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s " strategic growth plan,” which includes other improvements to the state’s infrastructure as well.

But California voters were turning down a proposition that would provide additional K-12 funding through a $50 real estate tax. Opponents of Proposition 88 said it would likely create new levels of bureaucracy and open the door to new property taxes to pay for ballot initiatives.

In Michigan, Proposal 5, which sought to protect state K-12 and higher education budgets by setting minimum funding levels, was rejected. The measure would have generated an estimated additional $565 million a year for education and would have required the state to provide annual funding increases equal to the rate of inflation. But opponents, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who was re-elected yesterday, said the plan would lead to cuts in other departments.

In Arizona, a proposal for an additional 80-cent tax on cigarettes to fund the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Initiative was leading, according to early results. Also known as First Things First, the measure will raise about $150 million a year for local and regional services for preschool-age children, such as child-development information for parents and grants to providers for improving preschool quality.

Opponents, however, said the measure-which pushes the total tax on cigarettes to $1.98 per pack-would duplicate existing services for children in the state.

Nebraska voters also approved an early-childhood-education initiative. The measure, Amendment 5, will create an early-childhood endowment with $40 million in state education funds to provide services for at-risk infants and toddlers. A private foundation has to kick in an additional $20 million.

Also in Arizona, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 300, which prohibits adults who are not citizens or legal residents of the United States from taking classes offered by the Arizona education department’s adult education division. They will also be barred from receiving child-care assistance and from getting in-state-student status. Early returns showed the measure leading 71 percent to 29 percent.

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