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EDUCATION BALLOT INITIATIVES SEE MIXED RESULTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY: Creative Funding Options See Support, Tax Increases Rejected

As the results from election day become clearer, it appears that education-related ballot initiatives saw mixed results. Education funding measures were on the ballot in five states. Voters in Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma approved measures to increase school funding. Tax increases for education funding were defeated in Arkansas and Washington.

In two high-profile races for the U.S. Senate, former educators went down in defeat in South Carolina and Florida. At the same time, Democrats fared better in several state legislative races, leading some observers to express hope for additional school funding.

Creative Funding Options for Education Garner Support . . .

In Oklahoma, voters approved the Oklahoma Education Lottery Act, which will create a statewide lottery with net proceeds from ticket sales going to education funding. Proponents of the Lottery Act have estimated that it could generate up to $150 million for education in the state. Earlier this year, Governor Brad Henry (D) pushed a different plan, expected to raise an additional $71 million for education through the state’s installation of electronic gaming devices at pari-mutuel horse tracks.

Voters in North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment that will create a state fund to be used exclusively for education. The amendment allows the state legislature to place proceeds from civil penalties, civil forfeitures, and other civil fines into the fund and dedicate them to maintaining free public schools.

In Nevada, voters supported making funding for education a state priority, but refused to force their legislature to meet the national average for per-pupil spending by 2012. Question 1 on Nevada’s ballot, which passed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin, requires lawmakers to pass the state’s education budget before considering any other item in the state budget. Question 2, which failed 51 percent to 49 percent, would have required lawmakers to raise per-pupil spending in Nevada public schools to match or exceed the national average by 2012, a measure that would have cost state taxpayers more than $500 million a year. Based on 2002 numbers from Stateline.org, Arizona ranks forty-ninth in per-pupil spending, at $5,487 per student.

. . . As Voters Reject Tax Increases Tied to Education Funding

By a vote of 70 percent to 30 percent, Arkansas voters rejected a referendum to raise property taxes to pay for the maintenance and operation of schools. Many state legislators believed the measure could have raised up to $90 million in new revenue for state schools and provided an answer to a recent school funding court case that said that Arkansas’s public school system is unequal and inadequate.

Voters in Washington State rejected a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax, which would have gone from 6.5 to 7.5 cents on the dollar, to fund an education trust fund. The measure, which was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent, was expected to have increased education spending by $4.7 billion in the first five years. Of that total, $2.3 billion would have gone to K-12 schools to reduce class sizes, extend afterschool learning opportunities, and provide salary increases and professional development for teachers. Nearly $2 billion would have gone toward increasing state-funded higher education enrollments by at least 25,000, expanding financial aid, and boosting state-funded research. Observers believe that the overwhelming failure of the sales tax increase is likely to make Washington legislators less likely to support increased funding for education.

Former Educators Defeated in U.S. Senate Races

In races for the U.S. Senate, former educators were unsuccessful in their efforts to be elected. In South Carolina, U.S. Representative Jim DeMint (R) defeated state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D), 54 percent to 44 percent. In Florida, Mel Martinez (R), former housing and urban development secretary under President George W. Bush, defeated former Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor (D) 50 percent to 48 percent.

At the state level, Democrat increases in Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont gave hope to those seeking additional funding for education. In Colorado, Democratic gains “could give a boost to advocates of increased school funding and ward off legislation to allow state-financed vouchers,” according to Education Week. In North Carolina, Democrats took control of the state house, and Governor Michael F. Easley (D) was reelected. Easley has said he will seek greater funding for education in general and could ask for more money for his anti-dropout program, Learn and Earn, which allows students to attend high school for five years and receive both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

“Legislative Shifts Alter Prospects for Funding and School Vouchers” is available athttp://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2004/11/10/11legis.h24.html.

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