Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

In States With Teacher Strikes, Voters Refuse to Raise Education Funding

The election defeats come at a time when support for raising teacher pay is at an all-time high.

Colorado teacher protests
Teachers protested outside the Colorado state Capitol in Denver last month.
(AP/David Zalubowski)
For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

Colorado and Oklahoma were both home to wide-scale teacher walkouts and strikes this spring, but it wasn’t enough to sway voters to raise education funding.

In Colorado, a proposal to raise income taxes for some was easily defeated. In Oklahoma, voters narrowly rejected a ballot measure to free up more existing revenue for schools.

The ballot questions came as support for teacher raises is near an all-time high. According to a recent poll by the journal Education Next, nearly two out of every three respondents in Colorado, Oklahoma and the four other states that saw massive teacher strikes this year, favored raising teacher pay -- a 16-point jump since last year. Nationally, about half of respondents supported increasing teacher pay, the second-highest it has been in the survey's 12-year history.

This spring's walkouts were driven by years of low pay and stagnant education funding. In Oklahoma’s case, the failure to restore education funding to pre-recession levels came amid tax cuts. In Colorado, teacher salaries have seen double-digit decreases over the last decade, as salaries have not kept pace with inflation.

The defeat in Colorado comes as somewhat of a surprise. An October poll by the University of Colorado showed 58 percent of respondents favored the idea. But opponents – mainly pro-business groups -- outspent supporters two-to-one. The ballot measure was rejected by 56 percent of voters.

“I am sad this didn’t pass, but I guess we will be back next year because the need is there,” Mapleton School Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio told The Denver Post on Tuesday night.

Colorado’s proposal would have meant a dramatic shift in state tax policy. It would have changed the state’s income tax structure from a flat tax to a graduated rate. One in 10 Coloradans would have seen a tax hike between less than one percentage point to more than three points of their income.

In Oklahoma, State Question 801 would have given schools more flexibility in funding. The proposal, which failed by just a half-percentage point, would have lifted a requirement for 11 percent of the local property tax revenue districts receive to be reserved for building funds. It would have allowed that money to be deposited instead into general funds, freeing up more money for day-to-day operations and teacher pay. (Lawmakers did raise revenue to boost teacher salaries when they approved the state's first tax hike in nearly 30 years this past spring.)

Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime said educators will now press lawmakers for more education funding so Oklahoma is competitive with neighboring states.

Some point out that the proposal ultimately would have created other pressures for school districts.

“The political pressure on administrators and school boards to spend all of the money available to them would be intense,” Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Gene Perry wrote earlier this year, “and it could result in deferred maintenance that turns into a much more expensive problem in the future.”

Earlier this fall, a third education funding measure was kicked off the Arizona ballot after a surprising ruling by that state’s supreme court. That measure proposed a near-doubling of the state income tax rate for high-income individuals making more than $250,000 a year.

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

Liz Farmer, a former Governing staff writer covering fiscal policy, helps lead the Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health project’s Fiscal 50 online resource.
From Our Partners