Dianne Post, a Phoenix attorney, points out that Proposition 123, the school inflation adjustment funding settlement to our lawless Tea-Publican legislature’s illegal actions, is a misleading sham in an op-ed at the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required), Prop 123 – It’s not sustainable and it’s not a solution:
While many good-hearted people have encouraged supporting Prop. 123 because they claim it is a good start and injects badly needed money immediately into the classroom, unfortunately, they are wrong. First, there will be a lawsuit regarding whether or not the enabling act requires Congressional approval to implement the Proposition. During the lawsuit, which could take several years, no monies will be sent to classrooms.
This first point is so obvious that I am surprised by the supporters who claim that “we have to support Prop. 123 as a first step, because it’s the only way we can get money into the classrooms.” Former state Treasurer Dean Martin warned of this outcome in his testimony before the legislature on Prop. 123. K-12 funding plan advances despite treasurers’ criticism:
In his testimony, Martin warned senators that if the state hikes the trust-fund distribution to 6.9 percent from the current 2.5 percent, the higher distribution would erode the trust’s investment power for future schoolchildren. It also would violate the state’s Enabling Act, he said, and at the very least would need congressional approval for any distribution change.
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The federal government granted Arizona 10.5 million acres of land at statehood, with the money from sales or leases earmarked for various beneficiaries, primarily public education. It is a perpetual trust, meaning it must be managed to the benefit of all recipients through the decades. Today, the state still holds 9.3 million of those acres.
Martin warned the plan lawmakers are considering would violate the trust’s long-standing rules and invite a court challenge. “You’re trying to settle an inflation lawsuit on education, and you’re going to end up with an inflation lawsuit on the trust fund,” he said.
Exactly! And classrooms will not see the money promised by Prop. 123.
Diane Post continues:
Even if the Legislature paid everything ordered and agreed to, it will not change Arizona’s ranking on education. It will not fix the education problem in Arizona, and it will not provide sustainable funding for our schools. For 20 years our pupil-teacher ratio has steadily worsened and is now 40% greater than the national average. In 1992, Arizona funded our students at 80% of the national average for state-sourced funding; today it is 55%, the worse in the country. Our state-sourced funding per teacher has dropped from 70% to 40% of the national average.
A separate piece of legislation that would go into effect if Prop. 123 passes would increase the base level funding from $3,426.74 to $3,600. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average is $12,401 per public school student enrolled in the fall. Arizona’s base level is at a third of the national average and remains in the bottom. The minimal funding of Prop 123 is not a solution.
Yet on Feb. 22 the Senate passed SB1279, (HB 2482) empowerment scholarships. As Senator Farley said in debate, “This is the end of public education in Arizona.” From 2000-2012, private school tuition credits claimed increased 287%. During the same time, state appropriations per public school student decreased 10%. Given these serious structural problems of long standing and the Legislature’s track record of underfunding education, it is clear that the Legislature’s idea of solving the problem of funding public schools is to eliminate public schools.
As Linda Lyon pointed out in Living in La-La Land?:
HB 2482 stalled due to public outcry over lawmakers trying to settle the inflation funding lawsuit with a reduced payment via Prop. 123, while siphoning even more away from public schools with the proposed total expansion of vouchers.
“To the rescue”, rides Senator Lesko, the Arizona ALEC Chair, with her bill, SB-1279. Introduced as a “strike-everything” bill, it was fast-tracked for consideration and met the Appropriations versus the Education Committee to no doubt provide some cover for the contentious bill. Instead of full expansion, Lesko’s bill settles for expansion to free- or reduced lunch program eligibility which for a family of four translates to an annual income of no more than $44,863. The bill passed on an 8-5 vote. [See The Arizona Republic, School-voucher expansion bill is back with twist.]
In that the voucher is only worth $5,400 and the average cost of private school tuition is Arizona is about $10,000, it is highly unlikely that those lower on the socio-economic scale will be lining up anytime soon to ditch their district schools. Rather, Lesko’s bill serves to again chip away at the foundation of our public school system and yes, the very core of our democracy.
I cannot emphasize often enough that our lawless Tea-Publican legislature has never demonstrated any good faith in this matter. There is simply no reason to believe them or to trust that they would comply with Prop. 123 any more than they did in failing to comply with Prop. 301. Their ultimate goal is the privatization of public education in Arizona in contravention of the Arizona Constitution, and they will let nothing stand in their way, including the law and the courts.
Diane Post continues:
The language of the proposition makes it clear that the Legislature will not pay even the amount outlined in the proposition. The proposition has many “triggers” that allow the Legislature to reduce or even stop the distributions from the land trust. If the trust fund is negatively impacted (by a complicated comparison with prior years) they can go back to 2.5%; if sales tax and employment rate are less than 2% growth, they can suspend payments; if the percentage of education funding in the general fund is at 49% or more, they can suspend payments and lower base levels. The proposition specifically says that the lost money does not have to be repaid in any subsequent year or distributed from any other public monies. No provision in the Constitution requires that the Legislature give money to for-profit prisons, dole out welfare to large corporations, or give tax breaks to the richest citizens. In fact, there are provisions saying they shouldn’t. The Arizona Constitution Article XI (10) does say that the Legislature has a duty to tax in order to fund constitutionally mandated education.
I have argued this point repeatedly. Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is in violation of the Arizona Constitution out of blind adherence to an ideological doctrine of “no new taxes” ever! The only way to break their stranglehold on government is to remove them from office.
Yet the proposition includes in it a permanent change to the Constitution to reduce voters’ power. The Voter Protection Act says a referendum passed by the voters cannot be repealed and can only be amended if the amendment furthers the purpose of the law and has 75% of the legislators’ approval. The intent of the Legislature is nakedly visible with four bills introduced this session: HCR2023, HCR2024, HCR2043, HCR2047. These bills would make it easier to repeal voters’ intent and put several hurdles in the way of passing a voter initiative. By refusing to fund the mandatory 2% inflation increase (which was a voter passed initiative) and not funding the base level, the Legislature re-directed (stole) the money specifically earmarked for education by the voters and used it for tax breaks to corporations. They got caught and sued. Now they want to make sure that doesn’t happen again by changing the Constitution to reduce voter power.
It’s hard to say no to our struggling schools but in reality they won’t get money immediately anyhow. The money they eventually will get is minuscule compared to what is needed to bring Arizona up to par. The legislature has clearly signaled they have no intention of coming up with a plan for permanent, sustainable and sufficient funding for public schools and they want to decrease voter power to make sure we can’t force them. Vote no on Prop. 123 and let’s elect legislators who truly care about Arizona’s kids and Arizona’s future.
This is the correct response to a lawless Tea-Publican legislature. Rather than accede to their threats and intimidation and extortion demands, and to surrender our constitutional rights to enforce laws we pass by citizen initiative, it is long past time that the citizens of Arizona hold these lawbreakers accountable for their lawlessness and to remove them from office en masse.
This point is also made by Harriet Young, a longtime Democratic Party activist from Flagstaff, in a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Sun. Be suspicious of billionaires for Prop. 123 :
One comment bears attention. Andrew Morrell commented on the funding from Prop 123 to education: “There is no other way for this kind of money to get into the fiscal year this year.” This implies that Arizona has no choice.
I beg to differ. In November of this year you can vote against the Republicans who are supporting this kind of sham reform. You could go to the polls and vote for Democrats who are pledging to fund education the old fashioned way: with adequate taxation.
Exactly, Harriet. We hold the power in our hands to transform the state of Arizona, if people would just get off their asses and go vote! (Sign up for PEVL and vote early to avoid voter suppression at the polls).