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Voters Grapple with Ballot Measures on Education

By Dakarai I. Aarons — November 09, 2010 3 min read
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State ballot measures involving education faced a tough sell on Nov. 2, including in Florida, where a hotly contested initiative that would have loosened a 2002 constitutional amendment governing class size was defeated.

The Florida measure was supported by groups representing the state’s school boards and school administrators, but it faced stiff opposition from the Florida Education Association.

The teachers’ union said the ballot measure’s primary aim was to reduce education funding. Although the proposal won support from a majority of voters—54 percent, with 99 percent of the votes counted as of late last week—it fell short of the 60 percent threshold required for passage.

Voters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Oregon, meanwhile, rejected a variety of state measures that would have had implications for education spending, whether by helping to increase aid or by leading to possible reductions.

Oklahoma Showdown

Key Initiatives

Passed: 5/17 | Failed: 12/17

ALASKA
Bonding Proposition B
Issuance of up to $397.2 million to design and construct libraries, education, and educational research facilities. YES

ARIZONA
Proposition 302
Redirecting money from tobacco taxes from a fund for early-childhood health and education to the state’s general fund, where it would be targeted to health and human-services programs for children. NO
Proposition 107 Amendment to the state’s constitution to ban affirmative action programs in a variety of settings, including public education. YES

CALIFORNIA
Proposition 24
Closing recently enacted tax breaks for corporations. NO
Proposition 25 Lowering the legislative threshold for passing state budgets from a two-thirds vote to a majority. YES

COLORADO
Amendment 60
Reducing the amount of property-taxes paid by individuals and businesses to school districts, counties, special districts, cities, and towns. NO
Amendment 61 Prohibiting all new state government borrowing after 2010; bar new local government borrowing after 2010, unless approved by voters; limit the amount and length of time of local government borrowing; and require that tax rates be reduced after the borrowed money is fully repaid. NO
Proposition 101 Reducing or eliminating a variety of taxes and fees on income, vehicles, and telecommunications, which opponents said would lead to less funding for government services, including education. NO

FLORIDA
Amendment 8
Loosening a current constitutional amendment that limits the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms in particular grade groupings and raising the number of students that can be assigned per teacher in each grade. NO

HAWAII
Question 1
Changing the board of education to one appointed by the governor with consent of the state senate, rather than elected. YES

MAINE
Question 1
Creating a casino with table games and slot machines and directing one-quarter of the revenue from slot machines and one-tenth of the revenue from table games to K-12 schools. YES

NEW MEXICO
Bond Question B
Authorizing issuance of $7.1 million in bonds to finance academic, public school, tribal, and public library buildings. YES

OREGON
Measure 75
Authorizing a new resort casino and creating the Oregon Job Growth, Education and Communities Fund, with 25 percent of the casino’s revenues to be deposited in that fund, and 50 percent of the fund’s revenues each year to be given to all public school districts for classroom instruction, including teacher and staff salaries, textbooks, classroom technology, and other supplies. NO

OKLAHOMA
Question 744
Requiring the state to raise per-pupil spending up to the average of surrounding states, including Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, and requiring that if the average amount spent by those surrounding states declines, Oklahoma would have to spend the amount it spent the year before. NO
Question 754 Putting language in the state’s constitution stating that the legislature is not required to spend a certain amount of money on any one government service or program, and that lawmakers aren’t required to make spending decisions based on other states’ appropriations. NO

WASHINGTON
Initiative 1098
Taxing incomes above $200,000 (individuals) and $400,000 (joint-filers) to help reduce other state taxes. Any increased revenues would be directed to education and health. NO
Referendum Bill 52 Authorizing up to $505 million in bonds to finance construction and repair projects increasing energy efficiency in public schools and higher education buildings. NO

SOURCE: National Conference of State Legislatures

Oklahoma voters, for example, defeated a pair of dueling initiatives. One would have required the state’s per-pupil spending to match the average of other states in the region, while the other would have added language to the state constitution saying the legislature was not required to spend money in such a fashion.

In Colorado, voters joined the chorus of “no” votes, rejecting a trio of measures aimed at dramatically reducing the state’s ability to collect revenue for a variety of services, including education.

Arizona voters shot down an initiative that would have shifted tobacco-tax revenue that is currently directed at early-childhood education and health services to the state’s general fund. The measure was soundly defeated, with 69.5 percent Arizonans voting against it.

Lawmakers in Arizona were already counting on the money: They built $385 million into this year’s budget under the assumption that the amendment would pass. They will now have to rework the spending plan.

In cash-strapped California, voters rejected an initiative, backed by the state’s largest teachers’ union that would have rolled back recently enacted corporate tax breaks.

And in Oregon, voters defeated a measure that would have authorized a new resort casino, with some revenue going to schools. A casino measure in Maine, however, passed.

In the area of governance, Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment that will lead to the abolition of an elected board, even as they elected four new members to the current state school board and re-elected two others.

The amendment hands Hawaii’s governor the authority to appoint the board’s members. Legislators next year will have to pass a measure establishing the appointment process.

Principal Control

The Florida measure on class-size reduction was among the highest-profile ballot initiatives affecting education.

Under the 2002 amendment, class sizes cannot be larger than 18 pupils in prekindergarten through 3rd grade, 22 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students in high school. The defeated ballot provision would have raised the class-size limits by three pupils in K-3 and by five students in the higher grades.

The proposal would have given principals more control over how the reductions were to be implemented.

Supporters had argued that it would give schools the flexibility they need to avoid such drastic measures as busing students to other schools and combining two grades in a single classroom to comply with class-size requirements.

The measure’s rejection leaves some difficult decisions for local school districts, where superintendents have already been hard-pressed to make classes fit the state limits amid a budget crunch. The Florida legislature is expected to look at the class-size issue when it reconvenes this coming winter.

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The Associated Press, Staff Writer Alyson Klein, and Assistant Editor Erik W. Robelen contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as State Ballot Measures on Education Receive Rough Treatment at Polls

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