Educator Activists Unveil The New Invest in Ed Act

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Photo from AZEd News

While education funding, through the efforts of many community and political stakeholders (including the Red for Ed Movement,) has increased in Arizona over the last several years, public schools in the Grand Canyon State still face serious obstacles in providing a quality education to the state’s children.

These include:

  • Funding levels are still below what they were in 2008. It is now 2020.
  • A teacher shortage where somewhere between 1400 to 1800 vacancies were unfilled at the beginning of the school year.
  • High classroom sizes.
  • An unreasonable 900 to 1 Student to Counselor ratio.

Two years ago, education leaders and activists, including members of the Arizona Education Association and the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, formed the Invest in Ed coalition and collected a record number of petition signatures to put the Invest in Ed ballot initiative on the ballot.

This initiative would have raised taxes on the state’s highest earners and raised close to 700 million dollars annually to meet the needs of children and teachers in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the Ducey packed Supreme Court threw the measure off the ballot, claiming that the wording with regards to the tax structure was confusing and inappropriate.

Yesterday (January 13, 2020,) the Invest in Ed Coalition filed the Invest in Ed Act with the Secretary of State Office.

If approved at the ballot box, Arizona schools will receive close to a billion dollars annually in new school funding.

Joe Thomas, the President of the Arizona Education Association made the public announcement at the State Capital Rose Garden during the opening of the State Legislature on January 13, 2020.

Please click here to see the video of the full unveiling.

What is in the new Invest in Ed initiative?

The new Invest in Ed initiative is based on months of research and soliciting the feedback of educators, students, parents, and local community members around the state.

If approved at the ballot box, Mr. Thomas said at the capital unveiling, Invest in Ed should bring in an additional 940 million dollars to public classrooms in its first year. In a later phone interview, Mr. Thomas said that future dollar amounts in later years may depend on economic growth.

During the phone interview, he said that the funds would be allocated towards the following areas of need. These are:

  • Increasing Teacher and School Support Pay (50 percent of the annual proceeds)
  • Recruiting counselors, and school support staff (25 percent of the annual funds.)
  • Helping fund the Arizona Teacher Academy (three percent.)
  • Annual grants for district and charter schools to develop innovative Career and College Readiness Programs like increased access to Career and Technical, Advanced Placement, International Bachelorette, and Dual Enrollment courses (12 percent.)
  • A statewide teacher mentoring program where first, second, and third-year instructors are guided by a veteran teacher (ten percent.)

Where will the money come from to fund the New Invest in Education Act?

Mr. Thomas relayed that the new fund for Arizona’s schools will be paid for with a “three and a half percentage surcharge” on the highest income earners in the state.

Unlike the 2018 ballot initiative, this surcharge will not involve tinkering with the state income brackets.

Commenting on this funding source, Arizona Center for Economic Progress Director (and former State Legislator) David Lujan told Jim Small of the Arizona Mirror that:

“The surcharge will apply to only the top 1% of earners in the state. He (Lujan) also noted that those hit with the new tax “will still pay a lower effective tax rate than 25 other states and lower state income taxes than the national average.” The effective tax rate for those people will be 4.4%, compared to 4.6% nationally.”

Please click here for more in-depth commentary from the Arizona Center.

Reaction to the New Invest in Ed

There has been some initial reaction among candidates for the State Legislature on the new Invest in Ed.

Felicia French, the Democratic Senate Candidate for Legislative District Six stated that:

“Funding public education should be the top priority for everyone in Arizona. Therefore, I am for the Invest in Ed initiative, and any initiative where the burden of the cost does not fall on the working and middle class.”

JoAnna Mendoza, a Democratic Senate Candidate in Legislative District 11, commented that:

“What a great way to start out the year and Arizona legislative session by introducing the Invest in Ed initiative. The sad thing is that we have to introduce initiatives that call for action to invest in education because some legislators don’t see investing in our children a priority. I know that’s true here in legislative district 11 (LD11). The immense amount of issues with schools in our district is proof that our elected officials have failed to place our children at the top of their list.” 

“In LD11, we have schools that don’t have certified teachers because Arizona legislators refuse to pay teachers a livable-competitive wage. Schools in some rural areas of our district our unsafe because the funding for repairs doesn’t exist. I currently serve on the Red Rock Elementary District School Board and we’ve been waiting for over eight years to have funding to repair our infrastructure issues. But those issues aren’t unique to just LD11, many schools across the state are experiencing the impacts of failed elected leadership. Who suffers? Our kids do!”

“What I’d also like to see are incentives for teachers to work in rural schools and legislation on broadband access for rural students and a requirement that all school buses be equipped with air conditioning and heat. The governor stated that there would be no new taxes- not on his watch. What he really means is no new taxes for the rich! What I love about the Invest in Ed initiative is that it’s action-driven. It drives the point home that we need to invest in our children, it’s just that simple!”

Seth Blattman, the Democratic Candidate for the Senate seat from Legislative District 23, wrote that:

“With 30+ years of combined time in office, you would expect the representatives in my district would have more to their names than consistent bottom 5 rankings in education across the board. This has to stop now. We cannot continue to sit by, draining our schools of all of their funding, while our students continue to fall further and further behind. I commend the proponents of the Invest in Education Act for stepping to the plate for all Arizona educators and students.”

Conservative organs like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce (who opposed the 2018 measure)  declared a wait and see attitude, preferring to see what the Governor and State Legislators agree to in the legislative session.

Moving Forward

With the filing at the Secretary of State’s office, a legislative council will now commence a 30-day review process. Afterward, the work will begin to collect the 238,000 valid signatures to get the new Invest in Ed initiative on the November 3, 2020, ballot.

As the reporters at AZ Central have noted, there are other funding increase proposals for education, in addition, to Invest in Ed and what Governor Ducey outlined in his State of the State.

They include proposals to just increase the regressive sales tax (a Sylvia Allen idea) or a combination of raising the sales and state property taxes (The Helios Foundation.)

Neither idea has recently gained momentum and generated widespread support.

Arizona’s Children can no longer be shortchanged in the classroom. 

Arizona’s teachers and support personnel deserve the compensation and respect long overdue to them. 

It is time for the people to do the job at the ballot box if the Governor and Republicans in the State Legislature fail to do theirs.

It is time for Arizona to finally have a well funded, fully staffed, and high-quality Twenty-First Century Education System