Voters in Several States Will Decide on Education Ballot Measures
While public education is down the list of issues that are drawing national attention in this year’s mid-term election cycle, voters in several states have the opportunity to weigh in on school funding, school choice and other education-related issues that will appear on state and local ballots in November.
Here’s a quick round-up of some of those initiatives:
School Funding: School funding has leapt to the forefront of education concerns this year, as teachers took to the streets in several states demanding higher pay and additional resources for their schools. The teachers are right: over half of states provide less total funding per student than they did in 2008 at the start of the Great Recession, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. While school enrollment has increased, along with the percentage of students living in poverty, funding for schools has decreased.
In that context, voters in Oklahoma, Colorado and at least 9 other states will decide on measures that either increase school spending or expand local officials’ power to use education funds.
Colorado voters will decide whether to raise corporate taxes, and state income taxes for people earning more than $150,000 annually. The initiative would raise an additional $1.6 billion for public schools, if passed. In Oklahoma, the issue is whether local school boards should have more flexibility in the use of property tax dollars.
In Maryland, a proposed constitutional amendment would designate additional revenues from the state’s gambling industry to go to fund schools. Voters in Georgia, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Utah will also be voting on school spending measures.
Many of these initiatives emerged directly from the “education spring” teacher walk-outs, which activated and mobilized tens of thousands of teachers demanding higher pay as well as additional resources for their schools.
Privatization: After the teacher walk-outs in Arizona last spring, education activists gathered signatures for a ballot initiative that would raise income taxes on wealthy residents to boost funding for public education by $690 million. That initiative was struck from the ballot by the state Supreme Court. But still on the ballot is a measure that would overturn a new state law that expands the use of education savings accounts, which allow families to draw public funds to pay for tuition at private schools, or for home-schooling expenses. The new law has been supported by Americans for Prosperity and by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But the grassroots mobilization against it has proved powerful.
Other Issues: Voters in Alabama will decide whether the Ten Commandments may be displayed inside public schools, and in South Carolina the issue is whether to amend the state constitution to allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent, who is currently elected.
On September 15th, the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition (CEJC) joined several other local civic organizations in hosting a “Public Education Town Hall.” The event was designed to educate candidates for public office on a range of education issues, particularly school funding.
The program began with a review of the findings of Confronting the Education Debt, the new report from AROS that documents the historic under-funding of schools serving Black and Brown students. A series of presenters outlined critical issues for Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Ohio public education. Candidates were then given the opportunity to address the audience to share what they learned from the session and to make commitments to support investing in public schools if they are elected.
The event drew a range of candidates, including two candidates for Hamilton County Judicial seats, one for Ohio State Board of Education and four candidates for the State Legislature.
The event was moderated by Marcia Futel, Education Committee Chair of the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area. Event co-sponsors include: League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area, Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC), and the Woman's City Club of Greater Cincinnati, Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati, Applied Information Resources (AIR, Inc.), the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, the Faith and Community Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, and Innovation Ohio. This event was Livestreamed by CEJC in two parts, HERE and HERE.
Don't forget to check out our new report: Confronting the Education Debt. The report, and organizing tools are at http://educationdebt.reclaimourschools.org