Education Is Not as Easy as ABC, 123 in Arizona: A Comprehensive Look at Proposition 123
April 21, 2016
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Arizona is failing in education.
The state is ranked 47th out of the 50 states in education, paying teachers $8,000 less than the national average salary and spending around $4,000 less per student than the national average. While most advocate improvements in Arizona’s education system, many disagree on the means to accomplish this improvement. Proposition 123 is one such controversy.
According to its ballot description, Proposition 123, the Arizona Education Finance Amendment, “increases annual distributions from the State Land Trust Permanent Endowment Fund from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent to benefit Arizona K-12 schools, colleges and other beneficiary institutions.”
In essence, if approved by voters, the measure will expand education funding by $3.5 billion over the next 10 years. As stated by the Associated Press, some of this money, around $1.4 billion, will come from the general fund, but most of the money, approximately $2 billion, the state will obtain by selling land from a state land trust.
If passed, the amount of money each school district and individual school receives will depend on the number of students enrolled, with Catalina Foothills School District set to receive around $980,000 within the first year after Prop 123’s enactment, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
There are no restrictions or requirements placed on the money; once endowed with the funds, schools may spend the money in whatever way they see fit.
While many schools plan to spend the money on professional development, technology, building maintenance, etc., most school districts have established teacher pay as their top priority if the proposition is passed. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Catalina Foothills School District is among those planning on raising teacher pay if the measure is enacted.
Promising much-needed funding for Arizona education, Proposition 123 superficially seems like an indisputably favorable statute. However, the controversy lies in the political context of the proposition, along with its implications for the state and the future of education in Arizona.
Prop 123 was formulated to settle a five-year lawsuit between the Arizona state legislature and Arizona public schools.
According to Ballotpedia, K-12 school districts and charter schools filed a lawsuit against the state after an alleged violation of the Sales Tax for Education Act. The Sales Tax for Education Act was a ballot measure approved by voters in 2000 that required an increase in school funding. Arizona schools assert that during The Great Recession in 2007, the state provided schools with significantly less than the necessary amount of funding required under the measure.
Proposition 123 was conceived as an effort to resolve this issue of short funding, by selling more State Trust lands.
According to the Arizona State Land Department, the federal government granted these lands to Arizona in 1912 and the lands have since been “held in trust and managed for the sole purpose of generating revenues for the 12 state trust land beneficiaries, the largest of which is Arizona’s K-12 education.”
Opponents of Proposition 123 deem the sale of state trust lands an erroneous means to fund Arizona education. Because the land will eventually run out, they argue that this measure is unsustainable and certain to damage Arizona’s education in the long run.
Dave Braun, a candidate for the House of Representatives, writes in an argument filed with the secretary of state, “Proposition 123 increases the withdrawals for ten years, stealing money from Arizona’s schoolkids of the future! After ten years nobody really knows how much money will be left in the Permanent Land Trust to fund the education of our children.”
Furthermore, opponents suggest that Prop 123 is a political ploy to satisfy demands for education funding without having to raise taxes. They believe that state executives like Governor Doug Ducey fear raising taxes because of the harm it could inflict upon their reputations.
In his argument, Braun also writes, “The governor and some legislators devised a gimmick to raid the Permanent Land Trust. This scheme is a ruse so that the governor can claim he spent more money on education without raising taxes when he runs for re-election for President!”
However, proponents of Proposition 123 argue that the measure is intended as only a short-term solution to the problem. They argue that Arizona’s education system is in such frail condition that it necessitates urgent action, to save it in the short-term before it entirely collapses.
Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, argues, “The use of the land endowment money is a balance of the immediate needs of students in our classrooms right now. It’s a short, 10-year period of drawing more from the trust land endowment. The state lacks other funding sources, but the needs are very real.”
According to Ballotpedia, if voters do not pass Prop 123, the existing distribution plan will continue from the State Land Trust Permanent Endowment Fund and current funding levels for Arizona schools and colleges will be maintained. The lawsuit between Arizona schools and the state will resume until a new proposal is devised.
It seems Arizona voters must weigh the pros and cons of Prop 123 for themselves before voting in the Prop 123 Special Election, to be held May 17, 2016. The final day to register to vote for the special election was April 18.
When questioned regarding her stance on Prop 123 and her plans to vote in the Prop 123 Special Election, registered Arizona voter and Catalina Foothills High School Senior Chloe Harwood said, “Education in Arizona seems like a very complex issue. As of now, I’m not sure if I would vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Prop 123. Neither of the two possible results of this election seem entirely favorable for Arizona’s education system.”