Voters Send Mixed Messages on Support for Education

Nearly lost among races for governor, Congress and key statewide races, voters in several states decided the fate of numerous measures affecting public education – in many cases, whether to increase or limit school funding. The voter sentiment was a mixed bag for school funding.

In Oklahoma, Proposition 744 asked voters to agree to spend as much money per pupil as the average of the states surrounding it. Only 20 percent of voters said yes. Critics said the measure would have forced the state to spend an extra $830 million on education, taking funds from other sources.

However, in Arizona, voters rejected Proposition 302, which would have taken money from a preschool education program called First Things First to help balance the state budget. Voters insisted the program’s funding remain intact.

In Florida, a proposal to repeal class size caps imposed by voters in 2002 failed by a 55-45 percent margin.

Still, voters in a number of states rejected measures that would have provided more money for education. Washington’s well-publicized Initiative 1098 would have imposed an excise tax on persons with incomes above $200,000 or $400,000 for joint-filers to help reduce other state taxes with part of the added funding being spent on public education. Although it would have imposed higher taxes on only 1 percent of the state’s population, voters soundly defeated the measure by nearly a two-to-one margin.

Voters in Washington also rejected Referendum Bill 52, 56 to 44 percent. It would have authorized and funded energy efficient projects in schools.

Colorado voters rejected three voter initiatives that critics had branded “The Terrible Three.”  The vote to reject three tax-cutting measures Tuesday led to a collective sigh of relief among government officials across the state who feared the passage of Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 could have meant financial doom, and in particular, less money for public schools in Colorado.

Maine and Oregon voters decided whether to allow casinos, with a portion of the profits going into public education. In Maine, the vote to allow a single casino in Oxford, Maine was still considered too close to call on Wednesday, with the supporters in the lead by approximately 4,000 votes with a handful of precincts still out.

In Oregon, the vote was much more decisive against Measure 75, which also would have allowed a single casino. Although supporters claimed the casino in Wood Village would have created jobs and provided revenue for state government, 75 percent of voters rejected the measure.

There were several other ballot initiatives that have been linked in one form or another to schools.  Arizona voters approved Proposition 107. Although it didn’t use the words “affirmative action,” Proposition 107 was essentially viewed as an anti-Affirmative Action measure. It bans preferential treatment in hiring public employees, including school personnel. It was adopted by voters with approximately 60 percent support.

Indiana voters also overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that caps property taxes.  It passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. Opponents claimed the measure will have a negative impact on school funding.

Finally, New Mexico voters gave their blessing to bonds for building prekindergarten facilities. Proposition C passed by a 60-40 percent margin. Proposition B, which authorizes bonds for libraries passed by a 52-to-48 percent margin, while Proposition D, directed at higher education facility bonds, failed by a slim margin.