A dozen ballot initiatives in nine states focused on K-12 education issues. Also making news was the surprise defeat of Indiana incumbent and reformer State Superintendent Tony Bennett by Glenda Ritz, a former teacher backed by the union.

Charters schools won big in Georgia and Washington, but policies affecting teachers and unions were a mixed bag. Michigan voters rejected a constitutional right to collective bargaining—widely considered a test case for expansion to other states, California in particular.

Speaking of the Golden State, the California Teachers Association (CTA) is breathing a sigh of relief now that voters have decided it’s okay for union bosses to deduct political activities dues directly from teachers’ paychecks without having to get their express permission first. Guess all that time away from the classroom to campaign really paid off—for the CTA, that is, not students or taxpayers. Meanwhile voters in Idaho rejected making unions’ collective bargaining with school districts more timely, open, and transparent. Teacher performance pay plans were also a no-go in Idaho—along with South Dakota.

One of the most interesting ballot measures came from Florida. Apparently voters in the Sunshine State think citizens should not be free to choose religiously-affiliated service providers of education or healthcare, at least that’s how they voted.


Shhh…for all you non-Florida readers, besides the Sunshine State’s own voucher program, nearly 11 percent of the country’s 5.8 million school-age children with special needs are already attending private schools of their parents’ choice at public expense under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Fully, 2,600 of those children are Floridians. (See the “Parentally placed in private schools” column in Table B3-2 here.) For that matter, it’s probably best to stay mum about the fact that more than one-third of all college Pell Grant recipients (3.4 million) use public dollars to attend private and proprietary colleges and universities. Close to 40 percent of Florida Pell Grant recipients (more than 232,000) use public dollars to attend non-public postsecondary institutions. (See Table 21 here.)

Back in Idaho, voters rejected a variety of reforms intended to bring education into the 21st century, including improved transparency, complete with fiscal report cards for school districts, and expanded online learning options for students. Looks like nostalgia for the 19th century factory education model won out. Well, “Esto perpetua,” as they say in Idaho.

More money for schools is always an election season favorite, and voters in California and Oregon passed tax measures for additional K-12 funding. Apparently, more than $11,000 per pupil just isn’t enough for voters along the Pacific Coast. Arizona voters, however, said ‘No’ to making a temporary sales tax permanent for additional K-12 funding, so schools there will have to get by with just $9,600 per pupil.

As they say, all politics is local. So, too, is education—and it doesn’t get more local than a parent with every possible education option for his or her child. Parents and voters across the country will have different ideas about which policies are best, and that’s as it should be. Certainly the last thing we need in education is a one-size-fits-all approach.

To see the K-12 ideas being debated around the country, see the ballot summaries and results by state below.

Initiative Summaries and Results

Arizona: Failed Prop. 204 (Quality Education and Jobs Act)

Voters rejected making a “temporary” one-cent sales tax approved back in 2010 permanent. The tax funds would have gone to various education and infrastructure programs.


California: Passed Prop.30 (The Millionaire’s Tax)
Voters approved a plan backed by teachers unions to increase taxes on those who earn $250,000 or more. The measure is expected to add between $6 and $9 billion annually mostly for elementary and secondary schools, as well as community colleges.


California: Failed Prop. 32 (Paycheck Protection)

Voters rejected (again) a ban on corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates. The measure would have also ended the practice of deducting funds for political purposes from union members’ paychecks without explicit, prior approval.


Florida: Failed Amendment 8 (Religious Funding Amendment)
Voters rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have prevented the state from barring individuals from choosing religiously-affiliated service providers of education and healthcare—essentially a Blaine Amendment. Some said the measure would have allowed the state to pass vouchers.


Georgia: Passed Amendment 1 (Charter Schools)

Voters approved an amendment allowing a statewide commission to approve charter schools, not just school districts, which can be hostile to chartering schools that compete with their own for students and funding. The measure is the result of a 2011 state Supreme Court decision that ruled Georgia’s Charter School Commission was unconstitutional.


Idaho: Students Come First laws

The Idaho legislature passed three laws championed by state Superintendent Tom Luna in 2011. Proponents refer to them as Students Come First, but opponents call them Luna Laws. They limit collective bargaining, implement teacher performance bonuses, and create more transparency in school governance. Each of those laws was on the November 6 ballot.


Idaho: Failed Prop. 1 (Limiting Collective Bargaining)

Voters rejected limiting how unions can negotiate with local school boards. Negotiations would have had a one-year time limit, and a union must prove it represents at least 50 percent of employees to demand collective bargaining. Schools would have had to make staff reductions by teacher qualifications, not seniority, closed-door negotiations would have been prohibited, and staff evaluations would have been required to include parent input.


Idaho: Failed Prop. 2 (Teacher Performance Pay)

Voters rejected implementing a performance pay system that makes teachers eligible for bonuses worth up to $8,000. Bonuses would have been awarded based on student performance and taking teaching positions in hard to fill areas, such as math, science, and special education.


Idaho: Failed Prop. 3 (Online Learning)

Voters rejected a law requiring school districts to post their annual budgets and labor contracts online and the state education department to post a fiscal report card for each district online. The law creates a technology funding formula and allows high school seniors who have completed graduation requirements to complete up to a year of post-secondary courses online. The law also lets postsecondary institutions operate charter schools. The most controversial of the three propositions, opponents claimed this measure would replace teachers with laptops.


Indiana: Surprise Upset—Incumbent Superintendent Tony Bennett Defeated
As Heartland Institute’s Joy Pullmann reports, “Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett lost to union-backed challenger Glenda Ritz, an Indianapolis-area former teacher and union official. Bennett had championed free-market reforms and managed the state’s portfolio of school choice, including vouchers, education tax credits, and a thriving charter school ecosystem.” See here for Indiana’s numerous education reforms.


Michigan: Failed Prop. 2 (Constitutional Right to Collective Bargaining)

Voters rejected a measure that would guarantee unionized public employees the constitutional right to collective bargaining. Considered “the most expensive ballot campaign in the state's history,” this measure was largely considered a test-case for similar measures in other states, California chief among them. Had the measure passed, 170 state laws would have been overturned and would have effectively made the state’s labor union leaders a “super-legislature.”


Oregon: Passed Measure 85 (Corporate Tax "Kicker" Funds)

Voters approved a measure that would allow the state to keep excess corporate taxes for additional elementary and secondary education funding instead of returning it to taxpayers. Previously, when the state’s revenue exceeded projections by 2 percent or more, the excess would be returned to corporate taxpayers as a “kicker” refund.


Washington: Passed Initiative 1240 (Washington Charter School Initiative)

Voters approved a plan allowing 40 public charter schools in the state over the next five years. So Washington now joins the 42 other states, including D.C., that have already adopted charter school legislation. This was the fourth time Washington voters considered charter schools.


South Dakota: Failed Referred Law 16 (Teacher Performance Pay)

Voters rejected a plan that would have given bonuses worth $5,000 to the top 20 percent of teachers in each school district. It also would have provided $2,500 scholarships and bonuses to recruit teachers in critical fields such as math and science. Tenure would also be limited for all teachers hired beginning in 2016.