Unions and education reformers battle the fate of ballot initiatives in several states

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Voters across the country will decide on Tuesday the fate of ballot measures affecting charter schools, merit pay and tenure for teachers.

Groups pushing the ballot initiatives want to radically reconstruct public education by infusing elements of free markets into state education systems. According to these groups, schools will improve if they must compete with others for students, and teachers will do a better job if they have to compete for pay raises.

These school choice advocates have financial backing from some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the United States, including Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

These free-market advocates face plenty of opposition, though, in the form of teachers unions and their Democratic allies. They charge that free-market reform will leave public schools bereft of resources and won’t do anything to improve outcomes for students.

As Reuters notes, polling organizations have not analyzed these issues for months. In fact, polling has been scant, at best.

Here’s a look at some of the different education-related issues on state ballots across the country.


Voters in Washington will decide on Initiative 1240, which would permit some 40 charter schools over a five-year period. The Evergreen State is one of a mere nine where charter schools are banned.

School choice initiatives have not fared well in the past in Washington state. Three times — in 1996, 2000 and 2004 — voters have blocked charter initiatives.

This time, charter schools supporters are promoting the innovation and competition that charters will bring, reports Reuters. Privately-run schools not fettered by bureaucracy and union rules can produce better, immediate results, supporters said.

Opposition to charter schools, led once again by teachers unions, is centered on the concern that charter schools will drain tax dollars from an already underfunded public school system.

Backers of Washington’s latest charter school initiative have raised and spent a tremendous amount of cash. Gates, a resident of the state, has contributed over $3 million to the campaign to pass Initiative 1240. Out-of-stater Walton has given $1.7 million.

Opponents of the measure, while severely outgunned financially, have history on their side. Their latest ad campaign, an animated YouTube video, depicts a “charter fairy” with a five o’clock shadow who is berated by an unseen school teacher with a British accent. 


Three measures are on the ballot and, as Reuters observes, they add up to a referendum on Idaho Governor Butch Otter’s dynamic and comprehensive set of education reforms.

Proposition 1 concerns limits on collective bargaining, teacher evaluation and much else. Proposition 2 involves merit pay. Proposition 3 revolves around laptop computers and online coursework.

Unions have aggressively attacked the reforms, calling them the “Luna laws,” in dishonor of Tom Luna, the state superintendent of schools. The National Education Association alone has doled out over $1 million in advertising to combat the ballot measure. Their message is that the radical reforms increase government expenditure and statewide bureaucracy while reducing local control.


Already the home to dozens of charter schools, Georgia has a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution and create a state commission existing only to approve or deny charter applications, thereby eliminating the need for school board approval.

Supporters say charter schools can improve education in the state by fostering competition in the sector. Also, as state Rep. Mike Dudgeon notes, according to the Loganville-Grayson, Georgia charter schools perform better than the traditional public schools in the districts where they are located.

While teachers unions are not a political force in Georgia. Still, there is plenty of vocal opposition. Foes of Amendment 1 say for-profit companies are trying to change the state constitution. They also argue that the charter commission would take money and power away from local communities and their school boards.


In The Mount Rushmore State, voters face a veto referendum that would negate a law that ranks teachers and gives bonuses to highly-rated one. The law also prohibits teacher tenure.

Proponents of keeping the law, including South Dakota’s governor, say the reforms will improve student achievement, reports KTIV, Sioux City’s NBC affiliate. Groups seeking to repeal the law, including teachers unions, warn that it’s a power grab from the state capital that will result in statewide standardization of education.

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