Education Ballot Measures in the States

Lindsey Burke /

Numerous education-related amendments, ranging from ballot initiatives and charter school authorizers to spending and collective bargaining reform, are under consideration in the states. It’s not every year that education policy receives so much attention, but America’s ailing education system is ripe for reform.

Several initiatives deal with whether to raise taxes in order to increase spending on education. As we noted several weeks back, the significant amount of administrative and non-teaching staff bloat in our nation’s public schools provides ample room to cut costs, and school districts should consider doing just that.


A measure in Georgia will determine whether a state authorizer—specifically an independent charter commission—can approve charter schools in the Peach State. In previous years, the state had the ability to approve a charter school application that had been denied by a local school board. But in 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state’s ability to authorize charter schools through an independent commission. The ballot measure restates the authority of the General Assembly to establish these schools.

Some allege that a state authorizer would deny local control. But allowing a state authorizer actually empowers parents to choose to send their children to charter schools where the monopoly public education system has failed them. Importantly, charters operate outside of the union-dominated system. States in which local school boards—particularly states with a strong union presence—are the sole authorizers of charters create a fox-guarding-the-henhouse environment.

It’s not unusual to hear stories of a promising charter school being denied approval by a local school board, which likely does not find it in its interest to authorize its direct competition. A state authorizer (or, in the case of Georgia, a charter commission) provides an alternate route for charter approval if a local school board denies an application.


Idaho is considering several measures concerning collective bargaining. Like Wisconsin did last year, Idaho will determine whether to limit collective bargaining to salaries and benefits. (Wisconsin ultimately decided to limit collective bargaining to those areas.)

Idaho residents will also consider whether to keep the state’s pay-for-performance measure in place. As Heritage’s Jason Richwine notes, “When a teacher receives a master’s degree, he receives a pay raise. When he simply works another year, he receives a pay raise. But when his students consistently learn more than students in other classes, this teacher all too often gets nothing in return.” Moving to a value-added model to capture a teacher’s distinct contribution to student learning— and basing compensation in part on those outcomes—is a better way to pay.


In California, among a bevy of spending measures, residents will also consider prohibiting dues automatically deducted from an education employee’s paycheck from being used for political purposes. Teachers in forced-unionism states such as California are required to join the union if they wish to teach in the public school system (or must, at a minimum, pay union dues). Nationally, the National Education Association reports that half of its members consider themselves more conservative than liberal. Disallowing paycheck deduction funds from being used to fund political activity in a forced-unionism state ensures that teachers are not made to fund causes or candidates with which and with whom they do not agree.

Washington State

Finally, a ballot measure in Washington State would create a charter school law, allowing charter schools to operate in the state. Washington State is one of just nine states in the country that don’t allow public charter schools.

Many more ballot initiatives across the country ask voters to consider various education spending measures along with some higher education questions. In all, the measures highlight the prominent place education is taking in this election and provide an opportunity for reforming various aspects of the education system.