Voters to Consider Education Ballot Initiatives

Published October 25, 2012

Two realities sparked a blaze of education-related state ballot initiatives voters will decide Nov. 6: frenzied reforms following a 2010 Republican resurgence, and federal demands embedded in Race to the Top stimulus grants.

Establishment groups, led by teachers unions and including school board and administrators associations, have vigorously protested a prairie fire of changes, including statewide school vouchers in Louisiana and Indiana, limits on collective bargaining in Idaho and Michigan, and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores in numerous states responding to Obama administration preferences. These protests often led to petition drives that put specific education reforms on the ballot, though voters elected the reform legislation’s authors.

Here’s a rundown of the national picture involving K-12 initiatives. States are arranged alphabetically, and the list includes California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, South Dakota, and Washington.

California: Props. 30, 38 to Raise Taxes for Education Spending

  • Context: 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). The state spends approximately $9,375 per student attending public schools, according to the Census Bureau’s latest figures.
  • Language: Propositions 30 and 38 offer alternative ways to address the state’s budget woes. If both receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the proposal receiving the most votes will pass.
    • Prop. 30: This measure, supported by Gov. Jerry Brown, would raise taxes in an effort to net the state an additional $6 billion each year, 89 percent of which will go towards K-12 education and 11 percent to community colleges. Brown argues the hikes are necessary to prevent $6 billion in education cuts. Tax increases include:
      • Between 1 and 3 percent extra for seven years on the state income tax for people who earn more than $250,000.                  
      • One-quarter-cent sales and use tax increase for four years.
    • Prop. 38: This measure would raise income taxes on most Californians in an effort to net the state $10 billion more each year. If it goes into effect, the planned $6 billion in cuts will go forward.
      • Income taxes would increase for the next 12 years on nearly all Californians on a sliding scale, of an additional 0.4 to 2.2 percent, with bigger hikes on people who earn more money.
      • During first four years, it would allocate 60 percent of revenues to K–12 schools, 30 percent to repaying state debt,and 10 percent to early childhood programs. After that, it would allocate 85 percent of revenues to K–12 schools and 15 percent to early childhood programs.
  • For More Information:

Florida: Amend Constitution to Allow State Funds for Religious Institutions

  • Context: A proposed amendment to the Florida constitution would essentially repeal the state’s constitutional ban on public dollars ending up at religious institutions, known as a Blaine Amendment. Many state legislatures passed Blaine Amendments in the 1800s to bar Catholics from equal religious treatment inside largely-Protestant-minded public schools. The measure would prevent individuals from being barred from participating in public programs if they choose to use public funds at a religious provider.
    • Some argue the amendment paves the way for Florida to pass statewide vouchers, since these would allow parents to send their child to private schools using state per-pupil funds, and some private schools are religious.
    • Proponents argue the measure would eliminate “anti-religious bigotry” and discrimination.
  • Language: Amendment 8 would “provide that no individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief” and “delete the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
  • For More Information:

Georgia: Amend Constitution to Allow Independent Charter Schools

  • Context: In 2008, legislators created the Georgia Charter School Commission to approve charter schools because local school boards repeatedly rejected their petitions. Charter schools are public schools that operate independent of school district control and many regulations, so they offer parents niche or specialized options. School districts often see them as competition. In 2011, the state Supreme Court ruled the commission was unconstitutional. In May 2012, the state’s legislature approved a constitutional amendment to give the state the power to supervise and finance charter schools.
  • Language: Amendment 1 would allow the state legislature and its agencies to authorize independent charter schools. Currently, only school districts can do so.
  • For More Information:


Idaho: Overturning Collective Bargaining Limits, Digital Learning Push

  • Context: In 2011, Idaho’s legislature passed three education laws teachers unions immediately challenged in court and public opinion. Union organizing put three propositions to overturn the laws on November’s ballot. The laws are known to proponents as Students Come First, and to opponents as Luna Laws, in “honor” of state Superintendent Tom Luna.
  • Language:
    • Prop. 1: Would affirm or repeal the law limiting collective bargaining in schools to wages and benefits only and limit teacher contracts to 1 year.
    • Prop. 2: Would affirm or repeal the law giving bonuses to teachers in hard-to-fill positions or who accept extra work and tying teacher bonuses to objective measures of student improvement, such as standardized test scores and dropout rates.
    • Prop. 3: Would affirm or repeal the law requiring every student to take two classes online to graduate and supplying laptops to upper-level students.
  • For More Information:

Louisiana: Term Limits for School Board Members

  • Context: Louisiana lawmakers have tried for at least three years to place term limits on school board members. In April 2012, a bill passed the legislature that lets voters in most school districts decide whether they want to limit local school board tenures to 12 years.
  • Language: House Bill 292, now Act 386, says: “At the statewide election to be held on November 6, 2012, a proposition shall appear on the ballot in each school district [with a few exceptions]… to determine whether the members of the school board in that district shall have term limits.”
  • For More Information:

Michigan: Constitutional Amendment Protecting Collective Bargaining

  • Context: Facing a $2 billion deficit, Michigan lawmakers in 2010 and 2011 cut spending and required public employees, including teachers, to pay 20 percent of their healthcare premiums. They also passed laws ending “last in, first out” seniority policies for teacher hiring and firing in favor of policies that promote and retain teachers based on seniority. So state unions placed a measure on the ballot to protect collective bargaining, which previously had prevented such arrangements. Michigan’s attorney general finds the proposal would partly or entirely repeal 170 state laws. Government employee unions provided three-quarters of the $8 million raised to support the measure.
  • Language: Proposition 2 would protect collective bargaining for public and private employees; invalidate existing and future state or local laws that limit collective bargaining and forced dues; and override state laws where they conflict with union contracts.  
  • For More Information:

Nevada: Increasing Taxes for School Construction and Repairs

  • Context: Clark County School District, surrounding Las Vegas, is the fifth-largest school district in the United States, with approximately 314,000 students. A ballot initiative there would raise $669 million for school construction and repairs on 41 of the districts’ 357 schools by increasing property taxes $74 per $100,000 of assessed home value between 2013 and 2018. Clark County spends approximately $10,000 per student for an annual $3.2 billion budget, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Language: Question 2 asks: “Shall the Clark County School District be authorized to levy an additional property tax rate of up to 21.2 cents per $100 assessed valuation for capital construction for schools for a period of up to 6 years, commencing on July 1, 2013?”
  • For More Information:

South Dakota: Teacher Merit Pay

  • Context: In 2011, South Dakota’s legislature and governor passed a merit pay plan for teachers that would award the top 20 percent of teachers a $5,000 bonus beginning in 2014. It also would award $2,500 scholarships for aspiring math and science teachers starting the same year. The South Dakota Education Association, a teachers union, objects to the measure because it distinguishes some teachers above others. The union gathered enough petitions to place the law on the November ballot.
  • Language: Referred Law 16 does five things: Establishes a college scholarship for prospective teachers in “critical need subject areas”; offers annual bonuses to math and science teachers; gives merit bonuses to 20 percent of each school district’s full-time teachers except if the local school board wishes to design its own merit bonuses or opts out of the program; mandates a statewide system for evaluating teachers and principals; and eliminates state laws requiring tenure to teachers starting July 1, 2016, though local school boards may continue to offer tenure. Voters will choose whether to repeal or confirm this law.
  • For More Information:

Washington: Allowing Public Charter Schools

  • Context: Washington voters rejected statewide initiatives to allow public charter schools in 1996, 2000, and 2004. This time, they’ll have another try at it, encouraged by multimillionaire ads favoring the option to let independent groups and nonprofits start public schools under strict state oversight. Initiative supporters have raised $9 million, including $3 million from Bill Gates and $1.7 million from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Opponents, led by the state teachers union, have raised approximately $350,000.
  • Language: Initiative 1240 would establish a nine-person charter school commission to approve charter schools. To grant charters themselves, local school districts would have to apply to the commission.
    • The initiative would allow the commission to approve two types of schools: new charters and traditional public schools parents or teachers vote to convert into charter schools.
  • For More Information:

Read an overview of New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington higher education ballot initiatives.


Image by Keith Ivey.