Voters send mixed messages on funding education.
Residents in Washington, Nevada, Arkansas and Missouri also defeated initiatives that would have channeled more money to school districts. But Oklahoma residents approved a state lottery that sends revenue to schools, and Maine voters defeated a property-tax cap that critics said would result in cuts in school aid.
Education advocates say the funding defeats are not a signal that voters aren't in favor of school spending, just that they are cautious about how money is raised.
"I think they are saying education should be a top priority, but they don't necessarily feel the capacity to pay for it out of their pocket," says National Education Association spokesman Dan Kaufman.
In Nevada, for example, voters rejected a ballot question that would have required the state to finance K-12 schools at the national per-pupil rate by 2012. The state ranks 46th in its per-pupil spending of $6,000, which is about $1,500 less than the national average. But voters approved a measure that would require the legislature to pass an education appropriations bill before any other department budgets.
Washington education officials say the defeat of a measure to raise education spending by $1 billion a year by increasing the state sales tax by 1 percent will mean renewed pressure on state legislators for funding.
The defeat of the charter school initiative shows that residents don't want attention diverted from the needs of public schools, say some educators there.
In Missouri, which is being sued by several districts within the state for failing to fund schools adequately, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring money from motor vehicles sales and fuel taxes to be spent on transportation infrastructure.
"We have a great need for the improvement of highways in Missouri, and this was a way to get more money without having to rely on a tax increase," says Associate Education Commissioner Gerri Ogle. "But it shrinks the pot of money available for education."
Ogle says state legislators are now discussing ways to change the education aid formula, which has been under-funded by about $600 million.
David Shreve, senior education committee director for education at the National Conference of State Legislatures, says many measures were defeated because taxpayers and state officials are hesitant to pass more funding mandates.
"Most elected officials like to retain some degree of flexibility when they are doing their budget," Shreve says. "Some of those ballot initiatives can tie their hands."
ARKANSAS & MISSOURI:
to funding school districts
to property tax cap that would cut school aid
to financing K-12 schools at the national per-pupil rate
to charter schools
to lottery revenue for schools