News: State Policy & Advocacy

3 College Affordability Ballot Measures Pass in Midterm Cycle

Thursday, December 20, 2018  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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From record turnout to a swing of power in the U.S. House of Representatives, the 2018 midterm elections produced several outcomes worthy of significant attention. What should not be lost in the shuffle, though, is the success that higher education propositions had at the ballot box. 

NCAN members in Montana and the cities of Seattle and Denver were encouraged by the display of public support in their respective communities, as voters in all three parts of the country chose to invest in efforts aimed at making college more affordable.

Montana’s 6-Mill Levy

Montanans cast their vote to maintain a modest property tax that provides the state University System’s 16 institutions with about $20 million every year. State legislators have required that a version of the measure face a vote once every decade since 1948, and it is undefeated since its debut. But declining support in its last three appearances on the ballot cast its fate as uncertain this cycle. Nonetheless, 61.8 percent of Montana voters approved the levy through 2028, a margin of victory 5 percentage points greater than the 2008 tally.

"The 6-Mill Levy represents an important funding stream for the Montana University System, but beyond that, it is an acknowledgment of the value Montana residents place on higher education in our state," said Peter Donaldson, Leadership Council chairman of the Montana College Access Network. He continued, "While MontanaCAN knows that more needs to be done in terms of affordability and support for postsecondary education in our state, the last 70 years of support for the 6-Mill Levy is a great jumping off point to know that our citizens value higher education."

Seattle Promise

The Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy made it over the finish line in Seattle, as 68.5 percent of the city’s voters cast their ballot in favor of the measure. This property tax increase is set to raise an estimated $600 million over the next seven years, 6 percent of which will go toward scholarships for community college students attending one of the three Seattle Colleges. While some program details are still being finalized, those eligible for the last dollar scholarship will be graduates of Seattle Public Schools from all income backgrounds.

Speaking on the looming need to fill a projected 740,000 jobs in Washington by 2021, College Success Foundation’s (CSF) director of government relations and advocacy, Juliette Kelly, was encouraged that this issue proved to be important to voters and legislators alike.

"This is one reason we at CSF are heartened by the strong support for the new Seattle Promise Program," said Kelly. "Together with other statewide college affordability measures passed last session, the Seattle Promise vote shows that both policymakers and taxpayers are prioritizing higher education and workforce development."

Denver's Initiated Ordinance 300

Denver voters approved a sales tax hike of 0.08 percent by a margin of 52-48 percent on Election Day. This move will establish an annual scholarship fund of approximately $14 million for the city’s recent low-income high school graduates, and the program’s dollars will reimburse nonprofits’ support services and scholarship expenses by up to 75 percent. A seven-person body will be charged with allocating the funds on a “pay-for-performance” model – organizations are only eligible for these public dollars if the students they are serving demonstrate sufficient academic progress.

"This fund drives systemic change for under-resourced students in our community to gain access to opportunity. Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF) has been a proud leader of the effort to pass the ordinance, which has been underway for several years," wrote DSF’s CEO Lorii Rabinowitz on the NCAN blog.

It will be at least a few years before the success of the new programs in Denver and Seattle can be evaluated, but all three of these electoral outcomes offer a positive, contrasting sign to reports that confidence in higher education is diminishing among a majority of Americans.