Both voucher initiatives contained clauses designed to convince voters that the measures would simultaneously introduce vouchers and step up funding for the public schools. California’s Prop 38 appeared to put into place a mechanism guaranteeing that the state’s per pupil expenditures on public schools would meet or exceed the “national average school funding.” In fact, it would have done no such thing. It simply stated, “The legislature may…” enact such a mechanism. Michigan’s Proposal 1 contained a public school funding level “guarantee” that would, in fact, have done nothing more than make a one-time adjustment to update the current minimum to the 2000-2001 level of expenditures. By rejecting these initiatives, voters in both states made it clear that they saw these “guarantees” for what they were – window dressing, designed to confuse the fact that these voucher proposals would do nothing to enhance public schools and much to hurt them. At the same time, where straightforward measures to increase or enable the increase of funding for public schools were on state ballots, voters made clear their strong support for public education. Voters in six states approved referenda that either committed more resources to education or made it easier to do so in the future.
California voters, while rejecting Prop 38’s vouchers, at the same time approved Prop 39, which lowers the threshold for local communities to approve school construction bonds. Until now, a two-thirds majority has been required for approval, seriously impairing school construction and renovation efforts. From now on, a 55% vote will be sufficient to approve such bond issues. The measure passed with 53% in favor. In a similar vein, 55% of Oklahoma voters approved Question 690, which will streamline school funding by eliminating the necessity of annual votes on school levies.
Voters in four states passed ballot measures approving increases in public school funding. Amendment 23, which passed in Colorado by a 53% - 47% vote, requires the legislature to increase public school spending by at least one percentage point over the inflation rate for the next 10 years. This is especially significant since voters there had approved in 1992 a ballot measure which set limits on new spending.
In approving Measure 1, Oregon’s voters took a major step in holding the state legislature accountable for the performance of the state’s schools. The measure requires the legislature to provide sufficient funding to enable the schools to meet state education quality goals. The vote was decisive, with 66% voting “yes” and 34% “no.” If these funding levels are not achieved, the legislators will have to submit a report explaining why. This is a bold, new tack on the “adequacy” approach to educational equity concerns and reflects growing public concern over the possibly punitive effects that increased dependence on high stakes tests could have on students and teachers if those tests are used as the enforcement mechanism for state standards and accountability systems. At the same time, Oregonians rejected by 55% - 45% an initiative that would have resulted in a 100% write-off of federal income tax obligations on state income tax. This would have produced a 20% reduction of public services including K-12 education.
Next door in Washington, voters passed two initiatives, 728 and 732 (with 71% and 62% in favor, respectively), to direct a portion of any annual property tax surplus to schools on a per-pupil basis, redirect previously unobligated lottery proceeds to finance school construction, and guarantee annual cost-of-living raises to public school employees. At the same time, these voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have authorized charter schools.
Arizona voters approved Proposition 301, which will increase education funding by raising the state sales and use tax by .6 of a cent. The measure passed with a 53% - 47% vote. Most of the new funds are earmarked for K-12 schools and will go towards reduced class size, additional school days, increased teacher pay, and building improvement bond issuance. To offset the regressive effects of a sales tax, the proposition also provides for a low-income household tax credit.
Virginia and South Carolina voters (along with voters in Washington, as mentioned above) expressed their support for improving public education by approving new lottery arrangements that will allocate lottery funds for K-12 funding and college scholarships.