In a major election year, it's easy to get lost in the potential impact of races on the national stage. But a number of state-level ballot initiatives could also have a significant local impact.
As you'll see in some instances with the four states below, some of those decisions could even influence policy beyond their borders — and in almost every instance, they reflect larger national debates.
California has funding measures and bilingual education on the line
This year, California voters will decide on education-related measures including a public school facilities bond initiative (Proposition 51), an extension of Proposition 30's education-benefiting tax increase (Proposition 55) and multilingual education (Proposition 58).
If Proposition 51 is approved, $9 billion in bonds would go to new school construction ($3B), providing charter school facilities ($500M), school modernization ($3B), career and technical education facilities ($500M) and the acquisition, renovation, construction and supplying of community college facilities ($2B). The approval of Proposition 55, meanwhile, would add 12 years to a tax on Californians with a single income filing of at least $263,000 or a joint income filing of at least $526,000, with 89% of revenues going to K-12 schools and 11% going to community colleges.
But the approval of Proposition 58 would have perhaps the widest-reaching impact, overturning the ban on multilingual education in 1998's Proposition 227 at a time when greater efforts are being placed on serving ELL students nationwide. Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire behind the Proposition 227, also came out on top in his push for English-only instruction in Arizona and Massachusetts, but he was less successful in Colorado. A win in California, especially with successful multilingual education results reportedly being demonstrated in San Francisco, could see a change of course elsewhere.
Ballot initiative makes Massachusetts unlikely ground zero in charter debate
Speaking of the Bay State, the Question 2 ballot initiative would raise a charter cap and allow up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year. The issue has been particularly contentious due to the state frequently being lauded as one of the best-performing in the U.S., with test scores that frequently rival those of other nations.
As a result, the state has become something of a charter school battleground in the national ed reform movement. A considerable amount of money from out-of-state has poured in to back the effort, as a win would be a feather in the caps of many a reformer, though the state also has particularly high standards for approving charters and has closed a number that didn’t meet expectations after opening. It's also been noted that charters serving the state's suburban students often have lower outcomes than their traditional peers, though the cap also isn’t blocking expansion in these areas.
North Dakota Constitutional Measure 2 would push excess oil tax revenues to ed
Like California's Props. 51 and 55, North Dakota's Measure 2 is an effort to proactively address school funding in the state — the importance of which can be seen via the current messes in states like Washington and Connecticut.
Approval of the measure would see the state legislature gain the ability to make excess oil extraction tax revenue made available for K-12 education from its Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund when the balance exceeds 15% of the general fund's appropriation to schools. As the Bismarck Tribune points out, citing painful cuts made between 1987 and 1991, that fund was created to provide a safety net for schools. The effort is opposed by the North Dakota School Boards Association, which is concerned the measure is broad enough to allow that fund to be depleted if it's used to supplant existing funding.
Georgia Amendment 1 aims for state takeover of failing schools
It's safe to say that state takeovers of failing schools have become fairly controversial. But Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's proposed Amendment 1 would allow the Peach State's government to do just that.
The idea behind the amendment, and state takeovers in general, is that additional accountability is added to failing schools in order to improve them — though critics of such moves have argued that they essentially convert traditional public schools to charter schools, which aren't accountable to public school boards. In New Orleans, often arguably seen as a rare takeover success story, the entire district is now made up of charter schools. But takeovers in Detroit, Memphis, Newark, and elsewhere offer much more cautionary tales.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the measure had 2-to-1 opposition in an October poll.