Millions of voters across the country approved six education ballot measures that impact education finance — many of which focus on equitable supports for marginalized students — in the recent midterm election cycle. From making early childhood education a constitutional right to universal school meals to a millionaires tax, breaking down what each of these measures mean for education and students at the state level is critical. As is looking at how the midterm elections impact the composition of five state legislatures — Minnesota, Michigan, Tennessee, Colorado, and Georgia — and implications for big ed finance issues that will gain traction during upcoming 2023 legislative sessions.
New Mexico: $140 Million in Early Childhood Education
In New Mexico, 70% of voters approved a ballot measure that made the state first in the country to guarantee a constitutional right to early childhood education. This is unique in terms of a recurring structural commitment to universal early childhood education funding. Nationwide, most states take a more piecemeal approach that often leads to inequitable access. The voter-approved measure also builds on the previous work Gov. Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature have done in expanding free childcare and creating an Early Childhood Trust Fund.
The $140 million in funding will come from New Mexico’s Permanent School Fund, which is the largest part of the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund. Currently, the state constitution requires that 5% of the fund be withdrawn annually to support public schools, hospitals, and universities. With voters’ passage of the amendment, this percentage increases to 6.25% annually, with the additional funding going towards early childhood education.
California: $1 Billion in Arts Education
Nearly 62% of Californians approved Proposition 28, a ballot measure that allocates about $1 billion in additional funding towards K-12 education arts and music programs. Under the measure, a minimum of 1% of the total state and federal funding allocated under California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) must be used for arts education. In school districts with more than 500 students, 80% of the funds go toward hiring teachers and 20% to training and supplies, such as musical instruments.
The additional funding will not be raised through an additional tax, but instead through a legislative requirement that the funds must be earmarked for these programs. This type of dedicated programmatic funding is unique to the LCFF, which replaced general purpose block grants and categorical programming with established uniform grade span grants.
Colorado: $100 Million for Universal School Meals
Over 55% of voters in Colorado approved Proposition FF, a measure to offer free school meals in all public schools. To fund the $100 million initiative, taxes will be raised on Coloradans with incomes over $300,000 and used to feed about 60,000 more students statewide. To receive the state funding, districts must first apply to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides free meals to schools where 40% or more of students participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program. The state funding would build on top of the federal meals funding by covering the difference. Colorado will use Medicaid and other data to demonstrate student need, rather than requiring families to fill out forms to reduce the administrative burden on families.
Massachusetts: Millionaires Tax Allocates Additional $2 Billion for Public Education and Transportation
In Massachusetts, 52% of voters approved amending the state constitution to create an additional 4% tax on income over $1 million. Currently, the state has a flat 5% income tax. The additional tax will raise roughly $2 billion in funding for K-12 and higher education, road maintenance, and public transportation. The levy will impact 0.6% of Massachusetts households.
Rhode Island: $250 million for School Renovations
Nearly three-fourths of voters in Rhode Island approved Question 2, which allows the state to issue $250 million in bonds to fund renovations and construction in public schools. The funding will be available to districts in 2023 and can be used for projects related to early childhood education, career and technical education, health, and safety.
Idaho: Advisory Question on $410 Million Increase in Education Spending
In Idaho, voters weren’t asked to amend the constitution or approve a tax increase. Instead, an advisory ballot measure asked whether voters approve of the $500 million in tax rebates and $410 million in increased education spending that Gov. Brad Little and the state legislature enacted in a September 2022 special session. The passed legislation included a provision mandating that the advisory question be included on the ballot and “the results [of the advisory vote] will guide the Legislature as to whether the ongoing elements of this act shall continue.” The vast majority of voters — 80% — approved.
Looking Ahead: Education Finance During 2023 State Legislative Sessions
Education funding was also less explicitly on the ballot in gubernatorial and state legislative races. With one-time federal COVID-19 relief dollars set to expire in September 2024, the potential of a recession, and declining student enrollment, education finance was already poised to be a key issue during the 2023 state legislative sessions. However, what would actually get done was contingent on how the election results landed.
Minnesota and Michigan now have Democratic trifectas with control of the executive branch and both state legislative chambers. In Michigan, additional funding will likely be allocated to education and perhaps an overhaul of the state’s funding formula. In Minnesota, there will definitely be movement on the state’s English Learner (EL) and special education cross-subsidies, which are the difference in how much it costs to educate the students versus how much funding the state actually allocates. Combined, the cross-subsidies total nearly $1 billion. The bigger question is whether the legislature will simply fill the deficits or make larger, structural changes to the state’s EL and special education funding formulas. (As someone who used to work in state education advocacy in Minnesota, I hope it’s the latter.)
In Tennessee, reelected Republican Gov. Bill Lee and his party retained control of the legislature months after passing the Tennessee Investment in Students Act, which infused an additional $1.1 billion into education and overhauled the state’s funding formula from a resource- to a student-based system.
In Colorado, Democrats retained control of the senate to maintain their Democratic trifecta. Earlier this month, Gov. Jared Polis released his education budget, which includes a 3% increase to K-12 funding (totaling $6.6 billion) and $13 million to create the state’s universal preschool program. Notably, his budget also includes a $150 million “buy down” of the state’s budget stabilization factor, funds the legislature withholds from K-12 education to spend elsewhere. Polis’ proposed “buy down” would reduce the annual withholding to $422 million, the lowest it’s been in 13 years. His administration also wants to include an additional $300 million in one-time funding to the state education fund to maintain the budget stabilization factor for several years and strengthen Colorado’s economy amid a looming recession.
In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp was reelected and Republicans retained control of the legislature. Over the past few months, state legislators considered adding a poverty measure to Georgia’s school funding formula. Currently, Georgia is one of only six states that doesn’t include additional funding for economically disadvantaged students in their education funding formula.
As state policymakers prepare for the upcoming legislative session, they must keep underserved students at the forefront. It’s critical that they wade through politics to pass bills that advance equitable education finance and prepare districts for the future.
Learn more about ed finance equity here.