Legislating education policy and equity at the ballot box: A descriptive analysis of the prevalence and content of education ballot initiatives over time

Amy N. Farley


Political scientists have long studied the use of direct democratic ballot initiatives—proposed directly by citizens and put before a statewide vote—as currently allowed in 24 U.S. states. Despite the application of ballot initiatives to legislate education policy, however, education scholars have not yet adequately investigated this phenomenon within American public education. In a comprehensive analysis of state-level direct democracy in education, this article examines the content and prevalence of education ballot initiatives used to shaped U.S. education policy over time. Analyses suggest voters have considered 282 ballot initiatives regarding a variety of education issues, including those related to both K-12 and higher education and addressing policy issues related to finance, governance, and civil rights and equal opportunity. Further, the prevalence of education initiatives has increased and their content has evolved over time, particularly with the advent of, and increase in, initiatives seeking to limit the rights and opportunities of traditionally underrepresented students. These findings contribute to scholarship regarding state-level education policymaking in general, and call on researchers to consider further the benefits and potentially negative consequences of direct democracy as an education policymaking tool, particularly for minoritized students.


direct democracy; education policy; equal opportunity; education rights

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.27.4102

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Copyright (c) 2019 Amy N. Farley


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