The looming battle over school financing in the Arizona legislature

“A plan by Arizona business leaders to ask voters for a 1.5-cent sales tax hike for education at the 2020 ballot could set the stage for a possibly expensive battle with Gov. Doug Ducey and his Koch brothers allies — assuming Ducey is still in office at that point.” Plan to place education tax increase on ballot could spark battle:

The specifics of the plan, first proposed earlier this year, include $660 million to extend the 0.6-cent sales tax that voters first approved in 2000 as Proposition 301 to fund education. That levy will self-destruct in 2021 unless specifically reauthorized.

Ducey has already said he supports making that tax permanent.

But this plan also includes $340 million for a 10 percent increase teacher pay. That compares with the 1.06 percent pay hike lawmakers approved for this year with a promise of an identical amount next year.

There’s also $300 million to fund the formula, ignored for years by the governor and lawmakers, which is supposed to pay for new school construction and repairs.

Another $240 million would restore state funding for full-day kindergarten, dollars eliminated during the recession.

And there were would be $190 million to help restore some of the cuts made in funding for universities.

Ducey, for his part, remains opposed to anything more than the simple extension of the 0.6-cent tax.

“He doesn’t support raising taxes,” press aide Daniel Scarpinato said Wednesday. Instead, the governor has told state agencies chiefs to find ways to save money in their budgets with the idea of redirecting the dollars to K-12 education.

Ducey has a track record fighting against higher taxes for education. As state treasurer he led the successful 2012 fight against an initiative pushed by parents and educators to make permanent a temporary one-cent sales tax increase which voters had approved two years earlier.

Potentially more significant, he has shown an ability to tap financiers Charles and David Koch to fund such efforts. More than half the nearly $1.8 million Ducey spent to kill the ballot measure came from Americans for Responsible Leadership, a group that legal filings from other states revealed got its money from a Koch-financed organization.

Two years later, Ducey got elected with the help of Koch-based organizations which put more than $750,000 into ads targeting Democrat candidate Fred DuVal and spent another $650,000 promoting Ducey. Since that time Ducey has regularly attended retreats sponsored by Koch groups promoting their vision of free enteprise.

The “Kochtopus” also controls our lawless Tea-Publican legislature which ignores its constitutional duty to fund public education. It slavishishly adheres to the First Commandment of the false religion of “trickle down” economics: “Thou shalt never raise taxes (on corporations and the rich).” House Speaker gives tax increase proposal cool reception:

Business leaders say they’re putting a measure to expand an education sales tax on the ballot in 2020 with the Legislature’s help or not.

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said an all-or-nothing approach to the future of a sales tax benefitting public schools would present “a high-risk scenario that just is unwise.”

Mesnard said the group is likely to find widespread support for an extension for Prop. 301, but in expanding it, they’re also likely to draw a fight.

“You’re going to see folks like myself and others who will explore every means possible to get additional resources before getting to a tax increase,” he said. “And there will be some, and I might be one of those, who will still not embrace that even as a last resort. Not because we don’t care about K-12 and don’t consider it a priority… but it’s no small thing when you’re taking more money from the general public.”

If history is any indication, Mesnard said, he won’t be alone in opposing the idea.

Gov. Doug Ducey certainly wouldn’t be among enthusiastic advocates for an increase.

The Capitol Times reporting suggests that “Gov. Ducey and the business leaders do agree on one thing: Any question about taxes for education should not go to voters next year.” The logic behind this is:

Teachers and allies have gathered enough signatures to put a measure on the 2018 ballot to give the voters final say over a plan approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature to expand who can get vouchers of state tax dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools.

“That’s going to take attention and money and energy,” Francis said.

He also suggested that statewide races, including Ducey’s own reelection campaign, only add to the “noise” that an education measure would have to overcome.

And there’s something else: To kill that voucher expansion, as the group wants, people have to vote “no.” But it would take a “yes” vote to boost taxes for education, something Francis said could lead to confusion.

The business leaders behind the Prop. 301 expansion plan do not speak for everyone in Arizona. Education leaders see an education crisis that needs to be addressed now in the legislative session beginning in January.

Beth Simek, a substitute teacher and president of the Arizona Parent and Teacher Association, and Beth Lewis, a fifth-grade teacher and chairperson of Save our Schools Arizona, write at the Arizona Republic, Waiting until 2020 to fund Arizona schools isn’t good enough:

When he took office, Gov. Doug Ducey pledged to make Arizona as competitive as possible by making government run more like a business and serving as our state’s CEO. As Arizona’s “shareholders,” we believe it’s well past time to review those promises when it comes to education and its role in our quality of life and state economy:

Sadly, the numbers show unfulfilled promises. Arizona is:

Arizona has a crisis – why wait?

Our state is simply not competitive when it comes to developing our future workforce. Compared to Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California and New Mexico, Arizona ranks five out of six for revenue and spending per student. Numerous Arizona companies recruit out of state and out of country because we don’t invest in growing enough talent at home.

An Arizona teacher can move to New Mexico to do the same job and get an immediate $15,000 per year raise. And they do. Arizona has nearly 2,000 classrooms without a teacher because the job just doesn’t attract qualified professionals.

Seems to us, any CEO or business owner worth their salt would take immediate action if their business was falling behind and bleeding talent like that.

Instead, we have been told by a CEO coalition to wait until 2020 to solve the problem and extend Proposition 301. We’re here to say that is not acceptable to the shareholders: the people of Arizona.

Renew existing tax as-is immediately

We cannot afford to wait three years to fall further behind. We cannot afford to wait three years for our teacher shortage to worsen. We cannot afford to wait three years to invest in our economic future.

This same CEO coalition claims “many education advocates are focused on other priorities this election cycle.” Totally false. The entirety of Arizona’s education coalition agrees that increasing funding is the state’s biggest need, and we can’t wait three years for a solution.

Waiting until 2020 to extend Prop. 301 will hurtle Arizona toward a $600 million fiscal cliff without a safety net.

Instead, the current legislature can and should extend Prop. 301 as-is immediately upon reconvening in January. Even the governor has said he is not opposed to this move. It’s a simple extension, not an increase, and it lets our entire state breathe as we work together on next steps.

We can get cash without raising taxes

Our schools need other revenue sources. We can’t just keep raising taxes on regular families because it makes special interests happy. We only solve this if everyone has skin in the game.

We believe Arizona’s CEOs do want to make a difference. So let’s close some tax loopholes. Why not consider ways to recapture some of the revenue we routinely hand over to national corporations and reinvest it into our public schools and local neighborhoods? Why not adjust corporate tax rates to be more fair compared to the taxes regular people pay?

Arizona families can’t afford three more years of inaction. If Gov. Ducey and the Legislature won’t act in a way Arizona’s real shareholders expect in 2018, the voters will – and we’ll lead the charge.

The Arizona Republic also weighs in with an editorial opinion. Our View: When will Arizona politicians step up for our schools?

When the last teacher leaves, maybe Arizona’s political leaders will get a clue.

Maybe.

But the severity of the current teacher shortage and the failure to make real progress on raising teacher salaries is discouraging evidence of a lack of genuine political interest in public education.

This puts politicians at odds with the public and business leaders.

So who, exactly, are these elected officials serving?

We have lowest pay, largest classes

The needs in Arizona’s K-12 schools are so great that it will take significant investment just to make up for what was lost during the recession and not restored.

Gov. Doug Ducey made a start with Proposition 123, which settled a lawsuit that challenged school underfunding [for less than what was owed]. It won voter approval in 2016 to pump money from the State Land Trust into education. Schools settled for less than voters had previously approved, and the close vote showed discomfort with that.

Ducey said Prop. 123 would be the beginning of efforts to help schools, but he has not followed through.

Our K-12 schools get less state aid than they did in 2008 – even as our fast-growing state’s population has just topped 7 million.

Arizona cut more from education during the recession than any other state and has done little to restore what was lost, according to reporting by The Republic’s Ricardo Cano.

Our elementary school teachers are the lowest paid in the country, when looking at median salaries and adjusted for cost of living, and high school teachers rank 48th, according to ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

The Arizona Education Association says the state’s average class sizes are among the largest in the country.

No wonder there’s a teacher shortage

The not-too-surprising result is a severe teacher shortage.

A recent survey of 172 school districts and charter schools by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found that nearly 2,000 teaching positions remain vacant in the state and 3,403 positions are filled by people who do not meet standard teaching requirements.

The group also found that since August, 866 teachers quit, stopped coming to work, or never bothered showing up from the get-go.

According to the school personnel association, Arizona teachers are being lured away by other states. Nevada, for example, is recruiting teachers in Arizona by touting its higher salaries.

Arizona has done little to make teachers feel appreciated – or compensated.

After proposing an even smaller raise last legislative session, Gov. Doug Ducey went along with lawmakers’ plan for a 1 percent stipend. Most teachers will get between $300 to $400.

That’s little more than $1 a day for 20-year teacher Deirdre Cronin, who told The Republic’s Craig Harris she maintains a part-time job tutoring after school in order to make ends meet.

A 20-year teacher in Arizona can’t make ends meet.

Groups are pressing for an initiative

Teachers, parents and public-school advocates are planning a protest at the state Capitol Jan. 6 to call for significant raises as part of a Save Our Schools Arizona event.

The grassroots group gathered enough signatures to qualify a 2018 ballot challenge to the Legislature’s expansion of a private-school voucher program funded with public money.

Save Our Schools is now talking about another 2018 ballot measure – on school funding – if lawmakers don’t come up with money to raise teacher salaries. “Our volunteers are fired up and agitated,” Save Our Schools chairwoman Beth Lewis told Harris.

A group of prominent business leaders is also energized – their aim is to get lawmakers to refer to the ballot a measure that would expand Arizona’s Proposition 301 from 0.6 of a cent sales tax for education to 1.5 cents [but not until 2020].

Phil Francis, former PetSmart CEO and one of the leaders of the business group pushing this, has said the business coalition will raise $2 million to put the expansion on the 2020 ballot if lawmakers do not act. [They should act now.]

This represents the kind of interest in education that can make things happen. But the timing is problematic.

Public support is there. Is political will?

Authorization for the current tax, which pumps about $600 million a year into education, expires in mid-2021. Voters need to reauthorize it or our schools will lose that money.

Ducey may be eyeing a vote in 2020. But waiting until the last minute is not the best idea.

Nor does it make sense to ask voters to increase the tax without making sure they are willing to simply extend it.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas called for raising the tax to 1 cent, but she does not appear to have the ear of the governor or legislative leaders.

A poll released last month showed Arizonans would support a 0.2-cent-per-ounce tax on soda, if the revenue is earmarked for education.

This is not a fully formed idea and it may not make sense. But the polling result is more evidence that the people of Arizona want our schools to be better funded.

The politicians of Arizona?

Their leadership is conspicuously missing.

The battle lines are drawn. It’s the people of Arizona vs. “Kochtopus” Tea-Publican legislators who will never raise taxes on corporations and the rich to pay for the educated workforce that they bemoan is lacking in Arizona due to their unconstitutional failure to fund public education.

March to Save Our Schools

Saturday, January 6, 10:00 a.m.: March to Save Our Schools, on the Arizona Capitol lawn, 1700 W. Washington Street, Phoenix. On January 6, we will declare 2018 the “Year to Save Our Schools.” Please join us to show your support for public education in Arizona. For more information, see  https://www.facebook.com/events/1608947095833245/.

One Response to The looming battle over school financing in the Arizona legislature

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    Isn’t a sales tax just about the most regressive tax there is? So it would hurt low income families the most?

    Sounds about right for the GOP.

    Really it’s the poors fault for not having Jesus make them rich.