An initiative to extend the one-cent sales tax for education has gathered more than enough signatures to qualify for November’s ballot, say backers.
In response, the president of the Arizona State Senate released a statement opposing the Quality Education and Jobs initiative, “... I am confident that as the facts become more known about the shortcomings of this initiative and risks of raising taxes ... Arizonans will vote this down and work for real reforms and accountability that our students and parents deserve,” wrote Senate President Steve Pierce.
On the other hand, Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien said schools desperately need the money.
“No one at the Legislature is committed to making a long-term solution for education funding,” said O’Brien. He applauds the grassroots effort.
In a recent Morrison Institute poll, 97 percent of Arizona voters agreed it is “imperative” to spend enough money to support a top quality Arizona education.
The authors of the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative want the ballot measure because they believe the legislators lack the will to fund education adequately, said Adam Lopez-Falk, the campaign manager for the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative.
The initiative replaces Proposition 100, a temporary one-cent sales tax voters approved in 2010. Last year, the temporary tax raised a billion dollars for schools and public safety.
“Proposition 100 was an initiative that came from the governor and Legislature,” said Lopez-Falk, “As a result, there were no constraints on the Legislature on how the money generated would be spent. This is an historic initiative — the people are taking control of the revenue generated.”
In the current budget year, the Legislature decided to hold about half of Proposition 100 funds in reserve to cover the budget deficit projected for 2013 when the temporary tax ends.
Because the Legislature put few constraints on how lawmakers spent the money, said Lopez-Falk, the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative aims to fix that.
Ironically, the Proposition 100 sales tax will end just as expensive new reporting and evaluation requirements imposed by the Legislature will take effect, said O’Brien. However, lawmakers provided no extra money for schools to comply with the new mandates.
The Arizona Legislature has opted into the federal “Race to the Top” program that delivered millions of dollars to the state to implement education reform, but the state used most of those federal dollars to create data and reporting systems. So far, very little has trickled down to the classrooms.
To comply with “Race to the Top” requirements, local schools must now implement common core standards, undertake teacher evaluations and create a master schedule of each student’s entire day.
Even so, Senate President Pierce said extending and earmarking the sales tax surcharge is a bad idea. “And even though we still face a daunting revenue challenge for at least the next two years… we still understand the value of targeting monies to K-12,” wrote Pierce.
He expressed disappointment that the upcoming ballot measure has enlisted the support of many business groups. “I am disappointed in the decision by certain business groups, who portend to be leaders in advocating for long-term economic growth, when they sign on carte blanche to a never-ending tax that offers absolutely no accountability.”
However, O’Brien said business leaders realize they can’t thrive without an educated workforce. “I don’t think the Legislature realizes business wants to hire skilled workers,” said O’Brien.
The Quality Education and Jobs Initiative proponents spent months on the language to guarantee the money will improve K-12 education and highway infrastructure by preventing the Legislature from diverting the monies to other projects, said Lopez-Falk.
“We have a lot of parents that support this because it ties the hands of the state Legislature,” said Lopez-Falk.
He said 80 percent of funds raised by the initiative will go toward education and the other 20 percent will guarantee road repair and highway infrastructure have enough funding.
The initiative has gathered more than 200,000 signatures, but needs only 175,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. But backers are taking no chances, said Lopez-Falk. The initiative proponents will gather over 225,000 signatures by the time they file on June 25.
“We want voters to understand that this is an already existing tax,” said Lopez-Falk. “Proposition 100 was approved across the state. Our polling shows this initiative will pass as well.”
Once the initiative qualifies, Lopez-Falk said the campaign would start an effort to create county volunteer offices.
O’Brien applauds the efforts of the Quality Education and Jobs campaign.
“Between 2008-12, Arizona was the second highest state with respect to percentage cuts in education funding. The reality of such cuts is that many of Arizona’s schools will be facing critical shortages to maintain textbooks, instructional materials, technology and infrastructures. Without funding for preventative maintenance, many districts will soon be looking at staggering costs to repair or replace HVAC systems, school busses, roofs, etc.”