The Voters Speak in 2002: Fully Fund and Strengthen Public Education

General Education Funding

A number of states considered various plans to increase public education funding, most of which passed.

Two years ago, Arizona voters approved a measure that allowed raising teacher salaries, but school districts were unable to comply as they were bound by tight spending limits. Passage of Proposition 104 corrects that situation and now teacher salaries can be raised even if they exceed state prescribed limits.42

By passing Proposition 300 — allowing Arizona to use State Land Trust revenues exclusively for education - Arizona voters clearly decided (76 to 24 percent) to approve additional funding for class-size reduction, teacher pay, school facilities and other needs of public schools.43

Tennessee voters approved Amendment 1 authorizing a state lottery to pay for specific education projects. If a lottery is established by the Legislature, funding college scholarships to keep students in state public schools would benefit from lottery revenues first. After that public schools would receive lottery revenue that would be used for technology and construction projects in K-12 schools and for early-learning and after-school programs.44 Recently, the Tennessee State Supreme Court declared Tennessee’s education funding formula unconstitutional,45 a factor that might encourage the Legislature to act quickly.

Utah’s Amendment 1 easily passed, capturing over 60 percent of the vote. The amendment repeals a provision that required part of the interest earned from the State School Fund to remain in the fund as a buffer against inflation and, therefore, frees up these revenues to be reallocated to public education.46

Nevadans rejected Question 7, which was focused on struggling rural schools. Passage of the measure would have allowed the state to issue bonds so rural schools could raise necessary funds to build schools. The bonds would have helped the districts avoid high interest payments associated with conventional loans saving them millions of dollars. Nevada has been sued for failing to provide equal education opportunities for all its students and measure supporters have said the state could be sued again if schools in rural counties remain substandard. 47

Two states considered gambling referenda in which a small portion of gaming revenues would be devoted to public education.

Arizona voters easily defeated Proposition 201, a slot machine gaming proposal that had the backing of racetrack owners. The measure would have provided additional funds for K-3 reading programs through racetrack slot machine revenues.48 Instead, voters narrowly approved a competing proposal, Proposition 202, which allows casino-style gambling to continue on Arizona’s tribal reservations. Under this measure, 8 percent of tribal gross gaming revenues will be used to fund various public education programs across the state.49

Making good on promises made to Native Americans in Idaho, voters passed Proposition 1, allowing video gambling machines to be placed in tribal gambling establishments. Tribal spokespersons say new jobs will be created as a result. The machines are essentially video versions of Idaho’s state-run lottery. Measure opponents will decide whether or not to revive a lawsuit set aside by the state’s supreme court.50 Tribes will contribute 5 percent of their gaming revenues to educational programs and schools in and around reservations.51

Two states considered initiatives concerning use of tobacco settlement funds in which education played a role.

By a 2-to-1 margin, voters in Michigan defeated Proposal 4, a proposal that would have diverted Michigan’s tobacco settlement funds from a college scholarship program for high school seniors to various health care programs. Despite large sums spent by supporters of the proposal – mostly health care institutions – voters were convinced that taking scholarships away from as many as 250,000 high school students over the next three years was unacceptable.52

Missouri’s Proposition A was defeated. In addition to funding a wide range of health care programs it also would have provided some funding for early childhood centers and in-school tobacco prevention programs. It was estimated that the additional taxes placed on tobacco products sold in Missouri might have generated over $300 million annually. Missouri’s share of the national tobacco settlement was originally earmarked to be used for health care programs but shortfalls in other areas of the state budget have absorbed money set aside for early childhood programs and anti-tobacco use campaigns.53

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