Prop. 118: A Welcome Pittance For Schools

$8.4 million boost, will bring in just $9 for each student

Payson Unified School District Office

Payson Unified School District Office Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey last week issued a press release saying Proposition 118 will generate $8.4 million for the state’s schools.

However, Payson’s Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said that the added money amounts to about $9 per student per year. “That’s hardly a game changer,” said Hitchcock.

Proposition 118 changed the formula the state treasurer’s office uses to calculate the earnings from the $3.67 billion Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund.

Ducey praised the voters of Arizona for passing Prop. 118.

“Fixing this formula is good news for our public schools and for taxpayers,” said Ducey in the press release. “After we discovered that the old formula would cause continued budgetary uncertainty, we received broad bipartisan support in the Legislature and from both the business and education communities to make sure Prop. 118 was passed by the voters.”

However, Hitchcock has reservations about Ducey’s triumphant announcement, especially since Ducey also led the opposition to Proposition 204, which would have provided schools with nearly $1 billion.

Hitchcock thought it odd Ducey put out the press release before any state officials communicated with the school districts. “I will have to remain skeptical until we get something concrete from the state. The source of this ‘good news’ was also the chair of the effort to defeat Proposition 204, but I will resist the temptation to dismiss it as a political spin job.”

During the election, Ducey chaired the “No on Prop. 204” campaign, the initiative written to continue a one-cent sales tax that has generated more than a billion dollars. Voters had approved the existing tax for schools, but the Legislature diverted most of the money to reducing a projected deficit.

Most of the money generated from Prop. 204 would have gone to school districts struggling with the lowest per-student spending in the U.S.

Voters approved the original one-cent sales tax in 2010 and gave the Legislature control over the money, but the tax will expire in 2013.

The Legislature later opted to save about half of the money generated by the tax this year.

Ducey said that he anticipates up to $8.4 million from the voter-approved Proposition 118 will go to K-12 education.

Hitchcock said anything will help, given funding declines in recent years.

“Of course we’re thrilled if the $8 million-plus comes to education this year, (but) we have to temper our thrill by realizing that even if the full amount were distributed on a per-student basis, the PUSD share would be about $9 a student or just over $20,000 for the year.”

Arizona maintains perhaps the lowest per-student spending in the country. The 2010 Census showed that Arizona spends an average of $7,848 per student, while the national average is $10,615. Since then, Arizona has cut its K-12 school spending more sharply than any other state, according to national reports.

This has resulted in larger class sizes in elementary schools, curriculum stagnation, teacher reduction in forces, frozen salaries, facility degradation, and deep cuts to extracurricular activities.

Hitchcock suffers no illusion about any extra funds from the state.

“Finally, my skepticism continues as we know that too often new revenue is identified for education has been used to supplant, rather than supplement the amount of the final distribution,” he said.

“Hopefully, sometime in May or June when we get a final number for our budget, we will be able to celebrate increased funding for education.”

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