County News

One of the most pressing concerns of Arizona voters is education funding — specifically, will it be possible for students to compete when their schools are among the nation’s most underfunded?

“Arizona voters will make an important decision regarding education funding next month,” stated Shannon Sowby, a public relations representative for the education advocacy group Expect More Arizona. “Expect More Arizona is supporting passage of Proposition 123, and we’ve been working to create a number of factual resources that schools and businesses can share to educate people on the referendum.”

If the proposition is passed, it will result in the dispersal of $3.5 billion over the next decade into the K-12 education system.

On April 19, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Barbara U’Ren presented on the implications for her district. Other local districts have held similar discussions. Several have highlighted that, while not a full recompense for lost moneys, the $3.5 billion does not come with additional taxes.

In Favor of Prop 123

“While a state general fund obligation will continue to be substantial, a majority of funding will come from the increased payout from the State Land Trust — from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent — via Proposition 123,” Expect More Arizona stated on its website. “Also, an additional $625 million will be appropriated for K-12 education and come from the state’s general fund: $50 million for five years and $75 million for the next five years. The inflation requirement will continue beyond the 10-year funding deal that Prop. 123 provides.”

If passed, the public should be aware that its input could have a substantial impact on how un-allocated funds are prioritized after the June dispersal. It is Expect More Arizona’s conclusion that “many are planning to use the funds to support teachers,” but a variety of options will be on the table when school boards discuss their proposed budgets.

Should the proposition fail, the settlement is withdrawn. The case would go back to court for a judge to decide. Potentially, this judicial process could take years. As the Arizona Parent-Teacher Association has pointed out, it has been “five years already since the lawsuit was first brought forward.” The funds might never make it to schools.

What is not negotiable is how much each school receives should the proposition be approved. Both public districts and charter schools receive the same amount per pupil, according to the dispersal of money from Arizona’s Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund, which is currently worth $5 billion and earning money each year.

“Proposition 123 is one step toward a long-term, sustainable and dependable funding plan that is needed for Arizona education from the early years through college and career,” Northern Arizona Community Mobilizer for Expect More Arizona Jennifer Hernandez stated. “We believe that other steps in the future should include increasing teacher pay, updating and addressing the renewal of Proposition 301, restoring funding to our universities and community colleges, continuing early literacy funding to ensure all children can read proficiently by the end of third grade and restoring Career and Technical Education funding.

“If Proposition 123 is not passed, schools will not receive this funding in June and the inflation funding lawsuit will continue, likely for years, with an uncertain outcome.”

Against Prop 123

In addition, Shirley Sandelands, Arizona chairwoman for the League of Women Voters, announced this month that the League is urging its constituents to vote no on the proposition. In her opinion, voters should insist for fuller and more comprehensive K-12 funding.

“You may have heard a lot about the necessity to vote yes on Proposition 123,” said Morgan Abraham, chairman of the Vote No on Prop 123 committee, in an online video. “The biggest talking point is that it adds money to our schools without raising taxes. It’s not that simple …. There are so many triggers that pull money from education built into Prop 123. If we ever have a recession, a rise in unemployment or less tax revenue collected by the state, Prop 123 declares that during these events K-12 education doesn’t get the inflation money it so desperately needs and money the voters demand be paid.”

According to Abraham, the proposition also limits education funding from the General Fund to 49 percent, preventing Arizona “from getting out of the bottom five of the worst-funded states for education.”

In an interview April 20, Abraham said, “The future students and future teachers weren’t the ones being sued in the lawsuit. Why are they the ones paying for it? …. It’s a tax cut. There’s no other way of looking at it.”

Abraham’s No on Prop 123 outlines seven reasons for opposing the proposition:

  • Prop 123 rewards state lawmakers who violated the state constitution and encourages them to keep doing so.
  • Defeat of Prop 123 would allow courts to hold lawmakers accountable and force lawmakers to fund schools without any strings attached.
  • Prop 123 has state land trust stand in for the General Fund so that corporate  giveaways and income tax cuts can take place on the backs of kids.
  • Prop 123 only partially restores the base level for schools, shorting them by at least $1 billion dollars over the next ten years.
  • Prop 123 keeps schools in financial limbo each year, as hundreds of millions of dollars hang in the balance anytime the economy slows.
  • Prop 123 punishes schools if state legislators ever move closer to funding schools like most other states do.
  • Passage of Prop 123 will wrongly convince Arizona voters that our school funding issue has “been taken care of” and lead them to vote against things like school bond overrides and a continuation of sales tax money for our schools.

“This is anything but a good idea for our kids’ education and for the future of Arizona,” Abraham concluded. “We’ve already hurt a generation of kids because of the reckless decisions of these lawmakers …. We can fund our schools the right way, and we should. The state has a $600 million budget surplus in the bank. A portion of that money should be sent to schools today.”

State Treasurers Opposed

Earlier this year, Arizona State Treasurer Jeff DeWit lodged his official opposition to the proposition: “The State Trust money is meant to last forever and we are not allowed to spend any of the principal. This plan spends principal. By dipping into the principal we will not only face potential lawsuits that would tie up the money for years but we also will face a huge financial shortfall in just 10 years that will create yet another gigantic education funding problem. Let’s require the legislators and the governor to solve the structural education funding problem now.”

Former Arizona State Treasurers Carol Springer [1999-2003] and Dean Martin [2007-10] have also lodged their opposition to 123.
U’Ren offered her perspective, stating, “As a superintendent, I do not take a public position on any election. I know that Prop 123 has many people in support due to the hope that it will get some needed dollars into public education. And I know that many believe that Prop 123 short changes public education and that the state is not following the will of the people when they voted to fund education through Prop 301.”

Despite repeated requests, Sedona-Oak Creek School District Superintendent David Lykins offered no comment on the proposition.

Mingus Union High School Superintendent Paul Tighe responded, stating that he would be out of town and unable to respond to media requests.

The vote on Proposition 123 is Tuesday, May 17.


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