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Polls decide teachers' pay

Referendums will dictate key policies in six states including future of vouchers and sex education


AMERICANS going to the polls on November 7 will not only decide the next incumbent of the White House - in six states they will vote on crucial changes in education.

Eleven education referendums have been placed on the presidential ballot papers in those states, allowing voters a direct say on issues such as teacher salaries, bilingual education, sex instruction, and government vouchers for private-school tuition.

The initiatives demonstrate the importance being placed on

education, experts say, as well as the public's growing impatience with elected representatives who they feel have not fulfilled their promises.

"That's exactly why people turn to the (ballot) process, because elected officials are unwilling or unable to deal with the issues that are important to the people," said Dane Waters, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute in Washington, which tracks such measures.

Referendums on issues such as sex education can be placed on ballots if enough voters back the idea in a petition. Legislatures also can decide to let the voters use the ballot to direct them on major issues such as funding and governance of schools.

Michigan and California voters will consider the controversial issue of whether to providevouchers to parents to send their children to private schools. In the south-western state of Arizona, one ballot measure calls for a ban on bilingual education.

Oregon residents will consider a proposal to ban sex education that endorses homosexuality, and another that would provide performance-related pay for teachers.

Just because a proposal appears on the ballot paper, of course, does not mean it will pass. It is the third time California voters will consider vouchers, for example. This time, however, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur has pledged $20 million (pound;14m) to a campaign backing the idea.

In Michigan, Catholic churches, many of which operate schools, are backing the introduction of vouchers, while the state branch of the national teachers' union plans to spend $1m (pound;700,000) opposing them.

Mr Waters argued that some of the initiatives were meant to put pressure on presidential candidates and on candidates for congressional and state legislative seats, which are also being contested next month.

"In a presidential election year, people put issues on the ballot hoping to put the candidates on the line," he said.

Kathy Christie, a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States in Denver, said it all proved education would be the top issue in the election. "Poll after poll has shown that it is the top priority," she said.

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