Posted on October 30, 2016 in Crime
Arizona voters saw Proposition 123, the Arizona Education Finance Amendment, on the May 17, 2016, ballot as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. By a close margin – less than 2% – voters approved Arizona Prop 123, siding in favor of devoting $3.5 billion of the state land trust fund and general fund toward Arizona’s education. As a state with historically one of the worst education systems in the country, this money has the potential to encourage significant educational change, growth, and improvement.
There are about 23 students per teacher in Arizona’s public schools, a higher number than the national average. At the same time, Arizona’s teachers make dismal salaries, on average only about $31,000 per year. Income growth potential for educators is nearly impossible in Arizona.
The combination of low compensation and a large workload doesn’t spell success for the state’s public education system. Arizona only spends about $8,000 per student every year, versus the national average of $12,000 per student.
In March 2015, just two months before the May 17th ballot in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey approved a state budget that kept K-12 funding at a minimum and cut nearly $100 million from the budget of public universities. This decision led to massive public protests, as it made it clear to citizens that legislators weren’t going to make education a priority. The same Gov. Ducey is one of the Prop 123 supporters, however, and stated at the press conference where he signed the bill that Arizona lawmakers have “immense respect and regard” for teachers, and hope the money from Prop 123 will give educators the resources they need.
Opposition to the bill argued that Prop 123 went against the purpose of a trust fund, which was to accrue interest and provide revenue over a long period of time. The bill’s supporters counteracted this claim, stating that the bill would not weaken the land trust’s asset base or hurt the fund’s growth. In the end, supporters won with a 50.92% majority vote. Five months after the passing of Prop 123, Arizona citizens are waiting expectantly to find out how the $3.5 billion will help Arizona’s education system and communities.
Two billion dollars of Prop 123’s money will come from increasing annual distributions, while the other $1.4 billion from general fund money. Prop 123 is an amendment to the state’s constitution that settled a five-year lawsuit regarding school funding. In 2010, school districts and charter schools in Arizona brought claims against the state for allegedly ignoring Proposition 301, a ballot measure voters approved in 2000, during the Great Recession of 2007. By ignoring Prop 301, the state evidently shorted schools necessary funding required under the measure. With the passing of Prop 123, schools will receive the money they so desperately need.
The state will give school districts in Arizona an amount of the $3.5 billion that is proportional to the district’s student population. The language in Prop 123 does not dictate how schools must use this money, giving schools the freedom to use it as necessary. This freedom has the potential to greatly improve Arizona’s communities, as districts could use the money to repair buildings, invest in new technologies, offer more competitive salaries, or fight the statewide teacher retention crisis.
Lawmakers do not intend for Prop 123 to serve as a permanent solution to Arizona’s education funding dilemma, but it will, at least for the time being, enable classrooms to obtain the resources they’ve needed for years, retain good teachers, and give Arizona’s education system a boost to improve its national rankings.