Sierra Vista Herald
The bottom line? Prop. 123 will not cost taxpayers a dime while it pumps $3.5 billion into education over the next 10 years.
The money is coming from the State Land Trust — property deeded to Arizona by the federal government with the stipulation that when the state sells it, the money is used for education.
Gov. Ducey is proposing to do just that with his support of this legislation to change the State Constitution and accelerate the amount of money that can be allocated from the trust over the next decade. It is the closest thing to a guarantee for public education that it will receive at least 71 percent of the money Arizona schools were entitled to, before the State Legislature chose to ignore Proposition 300.
That “assurance” points to the most infuriating aspect of the debate on whether to check “yes,” or “no” on your ballot for the May 17 statewide referendum.
If state lawmakers had followed the provisions of Prop. 300, which Arizona voters approved in the 2000 election, the upcoming ballot would not be necessary. Instead, legislators in 2008 took money specifically allocated for education and spent it from the general fund to avoid increasing taxes during a national economic recession.
Public schools filed a lawsuit which after eight years since the funds were lost, advanced as far as the State Supreme Court, with the judicial branch in strong agreement that Arizona lawmakers owed as much as $1.3 billion to the education fund.
During that eight year span, public education in Arizona has spiraled to the bottom of national benchmarks. Compensation for teachers is among the lowest in the country, the ratio of teachers to student is among the highest, and today the Legislature allocates less revenue per student, than any other state in our Union. Arizona ranks 50th.
The consequence to education of the Legislature’s financial policies — in just eight years — has been catastrophic. Good teachers have left the profession in droves, student achievement scores are well below national standards and Arizona public schools cannot afford to invest in textbooks or the technology to keep up with the rest of the nation.
Imagine what the next eight years would be like if opponents of Prop. 123 get their way at the ballot box on May 17. If the referendum fails, public schools will go back to court to try and recover the money they are rightly owed, but there is little that will compel the current Legislature to be earnest in finding a solution to its $1.3 billion obligation. As Gov. Ducey said when he proposed this plan, it’s past time that Arizona taxpayers continued paying lawyers to negotiate a settlement between two government entities.
The solution for those who oppose Prop. 123 isn’t found by defeating the only assured source of revenue for public education over the next decade.
To change the behavior of the Legislature, it is incumbent on those who support education to change the membership. Electing representatives who are in tune with what public schools need to survive and prosper is the best way to prevent future State Senators and State Representatives from breaking the law and overruling a voter-approved proposition.
We strongly endorse a “Yes” vote on Proposition 123 on the May 17 ballot.