Schools, Taxes, and Voter Behavior

An Analysis of School District Property Tax Elections

by Arthur J. Alexander, Gail V. Bass-Golod


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This investigation of school district property tax elections, based on 1600 California elections from the mid-1950s to 1972 and socioeconomic, demographic, and educational finance data by school district, found little difference in most characteristics between districts passing and failing elections. Districts passing elections though had significantly smaller proposed tax rate and tax change, and more families with high incomes. Numbers of assenting voters fall, dissenting voters rise, and total turnout increases with size of tax increase. There was no evidence of taxpayer revolt — a shift in voter behavior against higher taxes — from 1966 to 1972. However, a sharp shift (revolt) was observed between the 1950s and 1960s. Variables most sharply associated with calling of tax elections were growth in property value (negative relationship) and unpredictably low tax rate. Recent legislation, court mandated reform, falling attendance, and rising property values should reduce the rate of failing school property tax elections.

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