Who could imagine a worse time to ask voters for more money?
A pandemic rages. Unemployment is up. Wages have been cut. And don’t forget the tension cast by the most bitter and divisive national politics in memory.
Even so, several area educational institutions held out their hands looking for taxpayer help.
We wouldn’t have been surprised if they had gotten their hands slapped Tuesday.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, voters agreed to dig deeper into their wallets to support local education.
Two Janesville School District referendum questions—one for $22.5 million to replace boilers and improve school security and another for $37 million of additional operational revenue—passed comfortably.
In the Milton School District, which has a bitter history of rejected school referendums, voters narrowly renewed an operational referendum to allow the district to raise an additional $2.5 million a year for five years.
Blackhawk Technical College asked for permission to borrow
$32 million to build a new training and education facility. Voters said OK.
In the Delavan-Darien School District, voters gave the green light to spending $6.5 million for a new stadium, track, field and tennis courts.
The Clinton School District had two referendum questions on the ballot—one for $32 million in facility upgrades and another for millions of additional dollars for operations. Voters approved both.
What’s going on here?
Maybe the huge voter turnout played a role. In Rock County, 85,617 people went to the polls, a record.
Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School poll, doesn’t think so.
“Usually we’d think a November general election is harder to pass school referenda,” Franklin told The Gazette. “Only about 30% of registered voters have school-age kids, so a high turnout November election brings out a large—this time huge—turnout in which parents are a distinct minority while retirees who might worry more about property taxes than their grandkids’ schools would be a large share of voters.
“Some political folks have argued for moving referenda to only general election ballots because they think that makes them harder to pass. Obviously that wasn’t the case this time,” Franklin said.
More likely, it’s part of a larger trend in voter attitudes.
“Our polling has shown a clear change in opinion. Prior to 2015, more wanted lower property taxes rather than increased K-12 funding. But beginning in 2015 and continuing since, a substantial majority (55%-65%) of registered voters have favored increased school spending over holding down property taxes,” Franklin said.
That’s probably it: The referendums passing are an indication of people putting their money where their mouths are.
But we have an additional theory: Parents who have been helping their children learn remotely from home have found a new appreciation for what educators do every day.