Red-State Teacher Rebellion This Week

Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers are walking off the job Monday and holding rallies at their state capitols to pressure lawmakers. Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers plan to walk out in what could be huge rallies:

Inspired by the West Virginia strike in which teachers demanded and got a pay raise from state leaders, a wave of other states, including Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, are taking similar action.

Educators are organizing and publicly pressuring state lawmakers over issues such as education funding, teacher salaries and pension reform.

Teachers in Oklahoma are rallying for more education funding and salaries, and those in Kentucky will be marching over a controversial pension bill and the state budget.

Arizona’s #RedForEd will be back at the state capitol on Wednesday. Arizona’s education funding shortages are the direct result of annual GOP tax cuts since 1992 that produced a structural revenue deficit. Why is Arizona teacher pay so low? Blame those tax cuts

Media coverage of possible teacher strikes in Arizona and Oklahoma, following one in West Virginia, has often overlooked an important contributing factor in those states: Excessive state tax cuts that have shrunk state revenues and thereby made it harder for states to devote adequate resources to education.

Reductions in state education funding largely due to tax cuts have limited pay and other resources for teachers.

And both Arizona and Oklahoma have supermajority requirements to raise revenue — the “Two-Thirds for Taxes Amendment,” Prop. 108 (1992) in Arizona — which tend to lock in tax cuts once they’ve been enacted and make it difficult for these states to address shortfalls in education funding.

What they have in common: Big tax cuts

Consider the following: Arizona and Oklahoma both cut taxes sharply in the years before the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, and then continued to cut taxes after that.

  • Arizona cut personal income tax rates by 10 percent in 2006, cut corporate tax rates by 30 percent in 2011, reduced taxes on capital gains, and reduced taxes in other ways over the last couple of decades.
  • Oklahoma cut personal income tax rates starting in 2004. The top income tax rate fell from 6.65 percent to 5 percent, with the latest drop taking effect in 2016 even as the state faced a $1 billion shortfall. Oklahoma also substantially reduced its severance tax on oil and gas, increased tax exemptions for retirement and military income, exempted capital gains income from taxation, and abolished the estate tax.

This tax cutting squeezed state general fund dollars — the amount available to lawmakers to fund schools and other state priorities.

General fund dollars as a share of personal income are down 30 percent in Arizona, and 35 percent in Oklahoma, since 2006. The declines in these two states are among the five deepest in the country.

Those cuts made funding schools harder

That’s made funding schools adequately considerably harder.

Arizona’s school system is the nation’s second-least adequately funded, while Oklahoma’s is the fifth-least adequately funded, according to the Education Law Center (after adjusting for enrollment, regional wage variations, and other factors that affect costs in different areas). Most of the other worst-funded school systems, including those in Idaho, North Carolina and Mississippi, are also in states that have cut taxes heavily in recent years.

Further, while most states have gradually restored the school funding that they cut when the Great Recession hit, Arizona and Oklahoma have not come close. State “formula” funding for schools — the major form of state funding in both states — is down 28 percent per student in Oklahoma and 14 percent in Arizona since the recession hit in the 2007-2008 school year, after adjusting for inflation.

Most states have cut teacher pay since 2010

Large state funding cuts have made improving pay particularly challenging, since salaries and other compensation for teachers and other education workers comprise the majority of K-12 education spending in Arizona and Oklahoma. Most states have reduced average teacher pay since 2010, after adjusting for inflation, but Arizona and Oklahoma are among the deepest-cutting states.

The average teacher salary has fallen nearly 10 percent in Arizona and 15 percent in Oklahoma since 2010 in inflation-adjusted terms. In these states, low teacher pay and dissatisfaction over inadequate school resources have led to growing protests by teachers and other education personnel.

Arizona and Oklahoma also face daunting teacher shortages, in large part due to low pay and inadequate resources for schools.

In Arizona, more than 60 percent of teacher positions are either vacant or filled by people who don’t meet standard teaching requirements, according to the School Personnel Administrators Association. In Oklahoma, emergency teacher certifications — issued when fully qualified teachers aren’t available — have risen markedly.

The Norman Public School District, for example, has issued more emergency certifications this year than all Oklahoma districts combined issued five years ago. In addition, more than 90 Oklahoma districts have shifted to four-day school weeks, partly to retain teachers who can use the extra day to work at another job.

More revenue is tough – but possible

Arizona and Oklahoma face daunting obstacles to raising the revenue needed to address these problems because their constitutions require supermajority votes of both legislative houses to raise taxes: a two-thirds vote in Arizona and a three-fourths vote (or a vote of the people) in Oklahoma.

Recently in Oklahoma, roughly two-thirds of lawmakers — a group dominated by Republicans — approved a proposal to raise hundreds of millions of dollars and boost teacher pay for the first time in 10 years. And this week, the Senate mustered the three-fourths vote needed to send the package to the governor.

To do right by their teachers and students, these states will need to move away from the focus on ever greater tax cuts that has contributed to their current problems.

A democratic simple majority vote is all that should ever be required for fiscal matters. The undemocratic “Two-Thirds for Taxes Amendment,” Prop. 108 (1992), which empowers an anti-tax radical minority with a veto power over the fiscally responsible and sane majority, should be referred to the ballot for repeal by the voters. Arizonans could restore fiscal sanity to this state and begin to fix our long-ignored needs.

The Arizona Republic editorializes today Our View: Arizona schools need a lot more money now. You listening, lawmakers?

It is no surprise the pressure to increase funding for K-12 public schools continues after political leaders extended the six-tenths of a cent sales tax for education.

The need is that great. The frustration level is that high. The uncertainty is that raw.

Arizona schools get about $924 less in state funding per student in 2018 than they did in 2008, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

By extending the sales tax voters approved in 2000 beyond the original expiration date in 2021, lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey prevented the loss to schools of about $600 million a year.

This merely maintained the status quo, preventing the loss of this tax revenue in 2021.

Arizona’s schools need significant new resources. Arizona’s leaders – political, business and civic – need to work together to support new revenue for K-12, community colleges and the state’s universities.

Prop. 301 just preserves the status quo

Extending the six-tenths of a cent sales tax does not move Arizona education toward sustainable funding. It preserves an unacceptable status quo.

The recession that stripped our schools of so much funding illustrated the need for a solid and nimble system that can prepare children to compete in the new, knowledge economy.

You can’t do that for long on a starvation diet.

It was not just the Great Recession — it was 25 years of annual GOP tax cuts since 1992 that have resulted in a structural revenue deficit. Because it takes a two-thirds majority to repeal tax cuts, tax credits, or tax exemptions enacted by a simple majority vote of the legislature, these tax cuts accumulate over time. This unsustainable situation cannot be fixed without repeal of “Two-Thirds for Taxes Amendment,” Prop. 108 (1992).

The GOP-friendly Republic always stops short of calling for what really needs to be done. After all, the Republic endorsed Governor Doug Ducey who proposes to keep cutting taxes every year. And it has endorsed many Republicans and their tax cut proposals over the years. The Republic is part of the problem.

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