Mixed Results on States’ School Ballot Initiatives

Published November 7, 2012

Voters around the nation went all over the map in responding to education initiatives on November’s ballot. Washington and Georgia voted to allow independent charter schools, Floridians rejected a measure that would have allowed direct vouchers, and some voters—notably in California—approved education tax hikes while others rejected them.

New laws in South Dakota and Idaho tying teacher evaluations to student test scores were defeated by large margins. And nationally known state Superintendent Tony Bennett of Indiana lost his race in a surprise upset to a former union official.

Arizona: Rejected Education Tax Increase
Arizona voters rejected a proposal to make permanent a temporary one-cent sales tax increase to fund education and other state programs.

California: Passed Prop. 30
California voters appear to have approved a teachers-union-backed proposal to raise taxes largely on high incomes, ostensibly for education, but the money will go to the state’s general fund. California has an estimated $28 billion deficit on a $142 billion annual budget, approximately two-thirds of which goes to K-12 schools ($68 billion). Prop. 30 is estimated to bring in an additional $6 billion per year.

Florida: Rejected Religious Funding Amendment
Floridians rejected a state constitution amendment that would have barred the state from discriminating against religious providers of services such as education and healthcare. Some said the measure would have allowed the state to pass school vouchers.

Georgia: Approved Independent Charter Schools
After a bitter, lawsuit-filled campaign, Georgia voters approved a measure that would let a statewide commission approve charter schools, not just local school districts. Proponents argued local school districts often unfairly reject charters because charters compete for students and funds.

Idaho: Overturned Technology, Union Reforms
By a two-thirds margin, Idaho voters overturned a new law requiring every high school student to take two online classes and giving every high school student a laptop computer. Voters also repealed limits on collective bargaining, bonuses to teachers who fill high-need positions, and linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Indiana: Defeated Incumbent Tony Bennett
In a surprise upset, Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett lost to union-backed challenger Glenda Ritz, an Indianapolis-area former teacher and union official. Bennett had championed substantial reforms and managed the state’s growing portfolio of school choice, which includes vouchers, education tax credits, and a thriving charter school ecosystem.

Michigan: Rejected Collective Bargaining
After the most expensive ballot campaign in the state’s history, Michigan voters rejected a measure to constitutionally protect union agreements. The amendment would have overturned 170 state laws, the state attorney general said, and given union-negotiated agreements precedence over all state law.

South Dakota: Overturned Teacher Reforms
By a two-thirds margin, South Dakota voters overturned Referred Law 16, which tied half of teacher evaluations to student test scores and, based on that, offered the top 20 percent of teachers a $5,000 bonus. The rejected law also limited tenure for new hires in fall 2016 and gave $2,500 bonuses to math and science teachers.

Washington: Allowed Charter Schools
The fourth time was the charm for attempts to get Washington voters to allow public charter schools: they narrowly passed Initiative 1240 by 51-49. It was backed by billions of dollars from the likes of Bill Gates and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Washington is the 42nd state to allow independently managed public schools.


Image by House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats.