by Félix Pérez
Whether it’s increasing funding for public schools in Maine, Oklahoma, or Oregon; making sure the wealthy continue to pay their fair share for public schools in California; defeating an effort to lift a cap on charter schools in Massachusetts; or turning back a constitutional amendment that would allow Georgia to take over local schools, educators, parents and residents are standing up for students and public schools at the ballot box this November.
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A small army of activists from coast to coast has had a year’s worth of meetings, signature gathering, rallies, door knocking, making phone calls, envelope stuffing and posting yard signs. As they head into the final 56 days until Election Day, they are contacting pro-public education voters, reminding them what’s at stake and to vote all the way down the ballot.
“Educators and parents are not leaving any stone unturned,” said Gail Stoltz, who coordinates ballot initiative work for the National Education Association.
In some cases, they’ve decided they will no longer wait on state legislators to provide public schools adequate and stable funding. In other instances, they are fighting to ensure that public schools remain under local control and are not turned over to corporate profiteers.
Here’s a rundown, in alphabetical order:
- Proposition 55 in California seeks to maintain the current tax rate on the state’s wealthiest citizens that voters approved in 2012. It would extend for 12 years the 1 percent to 3 percent surtax on the top 2 percent of earners — those with annual incomes more than $250,000 and couples with annual incomes more than $500,000. Prop 55 would stave off a $4 billion a year cut to education and more students per class, fewer teachers and education support professionals such as counselors and nurses, and fewer student programs and services.
- In Georgia, educators and parents are opposing the so-called “Opportunity School District” constitutional amendment. The amendment would enable the state to control up to 100 struggling schools at a time and result in a $13 million cut to public schools. The state could turn to for-profit charter companies to run the schools using taxpayer resources. Teachers could be fired for no reason, and parents would have no input in school affairs.
- In Maine a coalition called Stand Up for Students collected more than 95,000 signatures to qualify an initiative that would establish a 3 percent surcharge on any taxable income over $200,000. Educators and other organizers point out that revenue would be designated solely for direct support of student learning in K-12 education. Ballot Initiative 2 is projected to generate an estimated $157 million more per year. Since 2008, Maine public schools have experienced a cumulative loss in state funding of $1.2 billion because of the state’s failure to abide by a ballot initiative that directed the state to fund 55 percent of the total cost of K-12 education.
- Massachusetts educators, parents and community groups have united to defeat a ballot referendum that would lift the cap on charter schools. Question 2 charter schools would siphon off more than $450 million in funds that would otherwise stay in public schools. That amount can increase by $100 million a year, resulting in a loss of vital funding for student programs and activities. Under the ballot question, 12 new charter schools enrolling up to 1 percent of the school-age population could be approved every year, forever, with no limit. These charters could open anywhere in the state, with no restrictions on how many charter schools could be opened in a single community or how much money any one district could lose to these new charter schools.
- State Question 779, in Oklahoma, would provide every Oklahoma teacher a $5,000 raise, while also giving districts the flexibility to implement locally driven compensation methods to address a teacher shortage. It provides funding for schools to improve reading in early grades and high school graduation rates, as well as increase early learning opportunities for low-income children. Funds would also go to Oklahoma’s colleges and universities to address affordability and to expand industry certification and career training for Oklahoma’s workforce. The measure, which would add a new Article to the Oklahoma Constitution, would increase the state sales tax by one cent and raise roughly $615 million annually. Oklahoma,which currently has 500 teacher vacancies, ranks 48th in the nation in teacher pay.
- Oregon residents will vote on Proposition 97. If the proposition passes, the state will be able to reduce class sizes by hiring 8,000 more teachers; decrease out-of-pocket costs for health care; provide 20,000 seniors quality in-home care; and hold big corporations accountable for their fair share in taxes. Under Proposition 97, corporations with annual state sales exceeding $25 million would pay a higher minimum tax rate. The proposition would generate an estimated $6 billion per biennium to improve schools, health care and senior services. Currently, Oregon has the third-largest class sizes in the nation, and there are 61 percent more seniors living in poverty today than a decade ago. Oregon has the lowest corporate tax rate in the nation.