Voters face ballot initiatives on affirmative action, sex ed, boosting teacher salaries

By Lauraine Genota 10/15/2020 05:02 AM EDT

Several states have education measures on the ballot, ranging from affirmative action, sexual health education and taxes to benefit teacher salaries.

New taxes would fund salary increases for K-12 teachers and staff, as well as fund universal preschool and other education programs. A couple of the measures would change the makeup of a state’s board of higher education.

A breakdown of the initiatives:

Arizona

Proposition 208 would impose a 3.5 percent tax surcharge on incomes of individuals making $250,000 or more or married couples making $500,000 or more. The revenue would be used to increase salaries for teachers and certified employees, such as counselors and nurses. It would also be used to increase pay for student support staff, including classroom aides and bus drivers. The money would support scholarships for the Arizona Teachers Academy, career and technical education programs, and retraining and mentoring teachers.

An Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s fiscal analysis estimates that it would raise $827 million for education. Some opponents, including The Arizona Republic’s editorial board, say it would put the state’s economy at risk because tens of thousands of jobs would be lost if the proposition passes.

California

— Proposition 16 would repeal Proposition 209 from 1996, which banned the state from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, education or contracting. The measure would effectively restore affirmative action programs in the state.

A poll conducted last month by the Public Policy Institute of California found that just 31 percent of likely voters planned to vote yes on Prop 16, while 47 percent leaned no and 22 percent were undecided. The share of Black and Native American student enrollment in the University of California system has declined since Proposition 209 took effect. In June, the UC Board of Regents unanimously supported a repeal of Proposition 209. Some opponents say affirmative action programs are not necessary.

— Proposition 15 would raise commercial property tax caps imposed decades ago, reassessing commercial properties worth more than $3 million at market value rather than purchase price. The revenue would be routed to schools and other public services. The measure would bring in up to $11.5 billion annually, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The California Teachers Association, California’s big-city mayors, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Gov. Gavin Newsom support the measure, while business groups and the California Chamber of Commerce say it could prompt companies to leave the state for somewhere more affordable.page1image63923504

Check out POLITICO’s guide to California’s 2020 ballot initiatives. Colorado

Proposition EE would increase taxes on tobacco and create a new tax on nicotine products. The money would fund public education, universal preschool and programs to help people quit vaping. Proponents say increasing the cost of cigarettes and nicotine products is a way to cut tobacco use and expand early childhood education in the state, the Colorado Sun reports.

But opponents say the number of tobacco users will eventually decline if the measure passes, forcing the state to find another revenue source for education.

Nevada

Question 1 would remove the Constitutional status of the Board of Regents, a group of elected board members who control budgetary and policy decisions for the Nevada System of Higher Education. It would instead make it a statutory body subject to change through the Nevada Legislature, giving the Legislature more control over the state’s college and university system. Supporters say it will increase transparency and accountability from the Board of Regents, but opponents say it will put the independence of higher education institutions at risk, the Reno Gazette Journal reports.

New Mexico

— Bond Issue C would issue $156.3 million in bonds for public higher education institutions, special public schools and tribal schools. According to a voter guide from New Mexico’s secretary of state, 39 schools have been designated for funding.

— Bond Issue B would issue $9.7 million in bonds for academic, public school, tribal and public library resource acquisitions. The two are part of a bond package passed by the Legislature.

North Dakota

Constitutional Measure 1 would increase the number of people who serve on the state board of higher education from eight to 15 and increase their terms from four to six years. It would ban state legislators, elected state officials and full-time state employees from serving on the board. It would also require the board to meet at least once a year with the heads of each institution under its control.

Some students are concerned that it would dilute the student voice since there would still only be one student member on the board.

Washington state

Referendum 90 would repeal WA SB 5395, which requires public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education for all students and allows students to be excused upon their parents’ request. The bill was passed and signed into law in March. Some opponents are against any statewide mandate on sexual education, including instruction for kindergartners, despite the requirement for age-appropriate instruction, KREM reports.

Proponents note that parents would be able to choose for their children to opt out and say the instruction is about healthy relationships, as well as understanding the idea of consent.

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