2008 State Election Update: A Sampler

Last Updated: November 06, 2008

This article appeared in the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.

Alabama. In a statewide vote, Amendment 1 passed (57% to 43%), creating "rainy day" accounts for the state's Education Trust Fund, which funds preK through post-secondary (and some other items) and the General Fund, which funds most non-education items in the state's budget. The constitutional amendment gives the governor authority to borrow from the Alabama Trust Fund, a $3 billion state-owned investment account that collects most of the royalties paid by companies that pump natural gas offshore. The borrowed money will allow state officials to try to balance the Education and General Fund budgets in years when tax revenues fail to meet budget projects, as is the case this year. In those years, the state declares "proration," an across-the-board cut in state-funded programs. A 3% proration had been expected this year, and a smaller proration may yet occur, even with money from the rainy day funds. Money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund must be repaid within six years.

Georgia. Amendment 2 authorizes local school districts to use tax funds for community redevelopment. Specifically, the measure restores to local school boards the right to participate in Tax Allocation Districts (TAD). TADS are used primarily in metropolitan areas to finance housing developments in post-industrial and other areas where traditional financing is unavailable. The idea is that school boards can use TADs to spur population growth within the district. But in areas where population is unlikely to increase, TADs can drain money from other purposes. There was no change in party representation in either the House or the Senate.

Maine. Democrats increased their one-vote majority in the Senate to a 20-15 spread (with some recounting still underway at this writing) and slightly increased their 3-2 ratio in the House. So Democratic Governor John Baldacci has a stronger hand in the battle to save his forced school district consolidation law which the legislature must consider repealing in response to a successful citizen petition drive. Under Maine law, if the legislature does not repeal the law, it goes on the ballot for the voters to decide next November. The Maine Small Schools Coalition, sponsor of the repeal referendum petition drive, is polling the newly elected or re-elected members of the legislature to see where they stand. To prevail they probably need enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto. Meanwhile, voters in school districts involved in 12 of 18 consolidation proposals approved the plans while six plans were defeated by voters. More than half of the consolidation plans being developed were not ready to go before voters on November 4. Many districts face losses in state aid if they fail to enter into consolidation plans under the controversial law passed last year.

Montana. Republicans gained narrow control of the State Senate and picked up some House seats, which may end up evenly split between the parties when two recounts are done. Advocates for improved funding for small and rural schools are cautiously optimistic that their return to court in September may add pressure on the new legislature to improve the funding system. Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer easily won re-election.

New Mexico. Democrats increased their majority in the 42-seat Senate by at least three seats to 27-15 and maintained their 3-2 margin in the House, generally increasing the probability that the school funding overhaul proposed by the state's consultants a year ago will pass in the 2009 session. Governor Bill Richardson appears to support the measure, but the issue is how to come up with the 15% increase in state aid it calls for.

Oklahoma. Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time in history and added to the majority they already held in the House. Both parties' leaders credited the presidential race with the Republican gains. Sen. John McCain carried the state two-to-one and President-Elect Barack Obama never campaigned there. One of the issues the Republican controlled legislature will face is school funding. A coalition of education groups has secured 238,000 signatures — 100,000 more than necessary — to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for 2010 requiring the state to increase per pupil spending to the average of neighboring states. Under current spending patterns, that would increase education funding by about $850 million. The Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools is a member of the coalition. The fact that the vote is two years away means there will be lots of maneuvering between now and then to address or sidestep the issue. Republican leaders have warned that if forced to spend more, the legislature is likely to demand more efficiency, such as school consolidation.

Oregon. Oregon voters were presented with 15 ballot measures on election day, four of which relate to public education. Measure 56 (passed) eliminates the "double majority" requirement for property tax referenda held in May and November. The measure overturns a prior requirement that a tax hike could only be approved if it received 50% of the vote and 50% of registered voters participated in the ballot. As a result of this change, local property tax measures become law when approved by a simple majority of those voting in May and November elections. However, the voter turnout requirement remains in place for elections held at any other time.

Measure 58 (failed) would have prohibited teaching non-English speaking public school students in a language that is not English for more than one to two years. Measure 60 (failed) would have prohibited giving pay raises to public school teachers based on "seniority," and would have required that pay raises be given based on the teacher's "classroom performance," although neither "seniority" nor "classroom performance" were defined. Measure 54 (passed) removes unconstitutional requirements that voters in local school board elections be able to read and write in English. Although the measure was not enforced it had remained in the constitution even after an earlier initiative had struck the literacy requirement from other public offices.

Read more from the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.