Stateline Story

Education Measures Get Pass or Fail Grades

Ballot measures dealing with education got a mixed reception from U.S. voters on Nov. 7. In some of the most closely-watched contests, far-reaching school voucher initiatives were defeated in California and Michigan, while a ban on bilingual education was approved in Arizona.

California and Michigan considered very different voucher initiatives. The California proposal would have given parents $4,000 of state money to help put their children through private school. The Michigan plan would have given parents who live in one of the state's seven failing school districts $3,300 to send their kids to private or parochial schools.

Both proposals were lavishly financed by conservative individuals and groups, and teacher unions and other foes spent heavily to defeat them. Eric Hirsch, an education analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said voucher proposals "tend to bring passion out on both sides and those passions are often well supported financially."

In Arizona, an initiative requiring that non-English speaking students be put into language immersion programs rather than be offered bilingual courses passed by a 2-1 margin. The referendum was modeled after a California initiative that passed in 1988 and has shown some success in Golden State schools.

Passage of the measure was a setback for the teachers unions. "It is appalling that a curriculum issue would be decided by a popular vote because it takes a very complex matter and reduces it to a simplistic issue," said Michael Pons, a policy analyst and spokesman for the National Education Association.

Arizona voters also okayed a sales tax hike to pay for a $3,000 raise for teachers and five extra days of school. The state's elementary and secondary schools will get the lions' share of the revenue, but 12 percent of the funds are earmarked for the state university system. Another initiative that would have required real estate developers to pay the full costs of schools built for new subdivisions failed.

In other education-related actions:

  • California also approved a landmark school construction proposal that will make it easier for school bond measures to pass.
  • South Carolina initiated a lottery to help pay for school programs, but a similar initiative failed in Arkansas.
  • Colorado voters decreed that each year for the next decade, the legislature shall increase school spending by the inflation rate.
  • In Oregon, voters rejected a measure that would have required schools to prohibit any instruction that "sanctioned or promotes" homosexual activity or lose state funding. They also rejected a plan to tie teacher pay to student performance. Voters did, however, pass an initiative designed to force lawmakers to give schools enough money to meet the standards mandated by the legislature.
  • In neighboring Washington, voters agreed to plow annual surpluses from property taxes and state lottery funds into the state's public schools. They also agreed to cost of living pay increases for all school employees, but said "no" to letting nonprofit corporations run charter schools in Washington.

Tags: Education