Voters send mixed messages on higher taxes for education

Are voters willing to dig a little deeper in their pockets to fund public education? The answer depends entirely where they live. Voters in three states weighed in on the question during Tuesday's election: Arizona, California and South Dakota. In only one state, California, did the measure pass.

California Proposition 30 will now raise the state sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent. It also creates four new high-income tax brackets for persons earning more than $250,000 per year. The latter provision will sunset after seven years under Prop  30. Various estimates put the amount of revenue that will be generated by Prop 30 between $6.8 and $9 billion. Voters approved Prop 30 by a 54-46 margin.

Other revenue-producing initiatives failed in Arizona and South Dakota. Voters in both states were asked to increase the sales tax rate by 1 cent per dollar. In South Dakota, where voters rejected Initiative 15 by a 57-43 margin, state leaders estimated the tax would have given schools approximately $725 more per pupil and provided additional funding for Medicaid. Arizona’s Prop 204 would have resulted in additional funding for public schools and college scholarships. It failed by a 65-35 margin. One news report in Tucson predicts the defeat might result in layoffs, larger class sizes and even school closures.

In a much-watched series of ballot initiatives, Idaho voters rejected three education propositions in Tuesday’s election, overturning legislation signed into law in 2011. In Proposition 1, voters turned back legislation that would have ended the practice of renewable contracts.  Through Proposition 2, voters rebuffed an effort by the legislature to implement a merit-pay bonus program for teachers based on several factors, including student test scores, hard-to-fill positions and teacher leadership. Idaho voters also rejected a third ballot initiative which would have provided every high school teacher and student with a laptop computer and would have required all students to take at least two online courses as a graduation requirement.

In other education-related ballot initiatives:

  • Two states approved measures related to charter schools. By a slim margin, Washington voters approved Initiative 1240, allowing the state to create eight charter schools in each of the next five years. Georgia voters approved Amendment 1, which recognizes the Georgia Charter School Commission. The Georgia Supreme Court previously ruled the state's involvement in the establishment of public charter schools was unconstitutional.
  • Florida voters rejected Amendment 8, which would have removed a statewide ban on using tax dollars to fund religious entities, including tuition at parochial schools.
  • In Maryland, voters approved Question 4, commonly known as The Dream Act. It authorizes the state to allow undocumented students who have graduated from and attended Maryland high schools for at least three years to pay in-state tuition rates at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.
  • South Dakota voters rejected an education reform package of Gov. Dennis Daugaard that would have ended teacher tenure and paid teachers in accordance with performance, giving each district's top-fifth of teachers a $5,000 bonus. The measure was overturned by a two-to-one marginit down after the state's teachers union got enough signatures to put the law on the ballot.