Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Do School Support Elections Fail?

Like many other states and municipalities, Arizona's ballot yesterday had an amendment which, if passed, would have brought significant financial support to the state's K-12 public schools. Amendment 204 would have retained an existing sales tax law—set to expire in 2013—that would have continued to bring millions of dollars—in the form of a 1 cent per dollar tax—to the public schools. The proposition lost by a vote of 65% Opposed, 35% In Favor. Pretty much a resounding rejection.

Moreover, 28 school bond override elections in Maricopa County (essentially the Phoenix metro area) resulted in 14 losses for the districts, in spite of the state legislature having cut public school funding in Arizona by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2008.

Why are school financial support elections going down in flames for public education?

One reason is surely Citizens United. More than $1 Million was spent by one or more "shadow supporters" to defeat Proposition 204. A California court forced some of these unidentified groups to reveal their sources just before the election. The money to defeat Proposition 204 came largely from a group with the name Americans for Responsible Leadership. Unraveling the laundry list of persons and organizations that were responsible for injecting $11 Million into the Arizona race (Prop 204 was just one issue targeted) is like attempting to solve a Rubik's Cube. The money for the donation made by Americans for Responsible Leadership came from Americans for Job Security. That money had in turn been passed through The Center to Protect Patient Rights, a non-profit directed by Arizona-based Sean Noble, a former congressional aide who has been tied to the movement of millions of dollars among political action groups. Americans for Responsible Leadership claimed to be the intermediary and not the true source of the $11 million in contributions. In October 2012, Noble and the Center to Protect Patient Rights contributed $55.4 million to other nonprofit political groups. The Los Angeles Times identified several connections between the Koch brothers and the Center to Protect Patient Rights. Did you follow? You weren't supposed to.

But the Koch brothers and all their secret identities are only the proximate cause of the rejection by Arizona voters of proposals to support the state's public schools. The ultimate causes, it seems to me, lie in demographics and the majority's attitudes toward minorities.

I have been inclined to name Arizona the bellwether of the 50 states, leading America to its future. Arizona's demographics are roughly this: lots of young Latinos, and lots of old White people. And given rates of fertility and immigration of the past few decades, Arizona is now what America will be in another 30 or 40 years. Just take a look at the distribution of the Arizona population in the 2010 Census when the numbers are broken out by Age and Ethnicity/Race:

Frankly, this distribution is stunning. Up to age 25, minority children (overwhelmingly Latino) outnumber Whites, and by the time you reach age 60, the population is overwhelmingly White. In fact, up to age 19, minority children outnumber White children by more than 300,000 persons. Roughly 60% of the school age population of Arizona is ethnic/racial minority, with Latinos being the vast majority of that group.

Why do school bond elections and other support proposals fail in Arizona and will fail increasingly throughout the U.S.? Because an aging White middle class is unwilling to support the schools that educate "other" people's children.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University


  1. "Frankly, this distribution is stunning."
    Pretty much hit the nail on the head about that.

    Maybe I'd disagree about your bellwether claim since AZ is (I think) home to lots of retirees which I'm thinking skews the White distribution towards the elderly, but still pretty amazing.

  2. Thank you so much for stating out loud what's going on in this state. It's no wonder that AZ was one of the few states lost by Obama. The idiocy of making life more difficult for those who will be supporting them in their old age is beyond belief. It was manifested as well in the opposition to the Tucson program on ethnic issues. They cancelled the course in spite of the fact that students taking the course were more likely to complete high school and to pursue higher education.

  3. Richard Rothstein made similar predictions in his book on grading assessment several years ago.

    "Other peoples children" is a hard sell...

    B. Wilson