Factors that affect the outcome of a general fund referendum in Indiana

Andrew Charles Sargent, Purdue University


School finance elections in Indiana were a relatively rare occurrence prior to a series of new legislation enacted in 2008 that, through the imposition of property tax caps statewide, resulted in sweeping reforms to education funding. These new laws coupled with a national recession resulted in many school districts not having the necessary financial resources to maintain programming and personnel consistent with their needs. With this in mind, many of these districts turned to the General Fund referendum as a mechanism to raise more revenue for their districts through an increase in local property taxes as decided by the voters through an election process. This research study sought to examine the factors that influence the outcome of General Fund referenda in Indiana. The quantitative study examined factors from two distinct areas: demographic variables and campaign strategies. The demographic variables studied for the forty-two school districts were socioeconomic status, student achievement, and community setting type. Additionally, campaign strategies were examined and statistically analyzed for their use and their relative importance as reported by those superintendents who had led their districts through the General Fund referendum process. Analysis of the demographic factors revealed that suburban districts were most likely to have a successful referendum as compared to other community setting types. Additionally, high achieving districts and non-low income districts saw greater success at the polls than their counterpart districts. As for the individual campaign strategies employed by districts, using paid promotional information, using existing school-based organizations in the campaign, involving community leaders in key campaign roles, and distributing information through social media were all shown to have a statistically significant impact on the outcome of referenda. Further analysis of the campaign strategies revealed two that were deemed statistically significant in their mean importance rating when comparing successful and unsuccessful districts. Focusing communication efforts on the high quality of educational programs found within a district and emphasizing the above average student achievement within a district were strategies that were both shown to be rated significantly more important in those districts that won their referendum as compared to those districts that failed. In the end, a truly successful referendum campaign likely reflects a balance of the science of winning school finance elections and the art of convincing the citizens of a community that a wise investment in the future comes in the form of a properly-funded education for all children.




Hirth, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education finance|Educational leadership|School administration

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