Kind of like filling a bucket with a hole in it.

That’s how a lot of educators feel about the effort to bolster school funding in one of the worst-funded public school systems in the country.

Educators last month won a solid victory when a Superior Court judge rejected an effort to prevent implementation of Proposition 208, which would generate up to $940 million annually by imposing and added 3.5% state income tax on individuals making more than $250,000 annually or couples making more than $500,000 annually.

Opponents — including the Goldwater Institute — asked Maricopa Superior Court Judge John Hannah to issue an injunction to keep the state from collecting the extra money. The lawsuit claimed the proposition needed a two-thirds approval, since the Arizona Constitution requires a supermajority for the legislature to impose a new tax. The lawsuit also claimed the measure might exceed a constitutional limit on school spending.

The judge rejected all the objections and refused to issue the injunction. Opponents can still press for a full-blown trial. The judge ruled that the requirement for a two-thirds vote applies to the legislature, not ballot measures. He said it’s unclear whether the constitutional limit on education spending would apply, since the money could be considered a grant outside of the education spending limit. In any case, it would require a full-blown trial to answer that question, he concluded. In the meantime, it’s unclear if the measure would in fact generate enough money to exceed the cap.

The ruling plugged one hole in the school funding bucket.

However, the state budget deliberations this year promise to punch a new hole in that battered bucket.

The pandemic dealt a heavy blow to most school districts this year, contributing to a more than 4% decline in school enrollment statewide — the loss of some 50,000 students. Many local schools suffered 10% enrollment declines. In addition, the state pays districts less for students enrolled in online classes. The forced shift to online classes this year cost districts like Payson some $400,000 in funding. The proposed budget for the upcoming year does not change the formula for enrollment declines, which will lock in this year’s losses if students don’t return to district schools.

Statewide, schools lost some $266 million in funding — including $2 million in Gila County.

The state would have to boost school spending by about $3.5 billion annually to reach the national per-student average, according to the Save Our Schools advocacy group.

“Despite the new revenues from Prop. 208, Arizona will still rank in the bottom five states in the nation for education funding,” the group concluded in a recently issued “State of Education in Arizona” white paper.

Moreover, previously approved ballot measures Proposition 123 and Proposition 301 will essentially expire in the next few years, eliminating some $775 million in annual school funding if they’re not renewed or replaced.

In the meantime, the legislature’s considering a three-year, $600 million state income tax cut as well as a massive expansion of the state’s voucher program that provides taxpayer subsidies to pay tuition costs in private schools. The current program costs the state about $82 million annually.

So when it comes to school funding, the budget bucket’s still got lots of leaks.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(5) comments

Mike White

It seems we need some more competition for the government-run schools from privately run schools. Let's allow freedom of choice for parents, especially the mid-to-lower income families by providing vouchers. Students will migrate to the best schools, along with the money to teach them. The worse that can happen is that some teachers might have to change the school they work at. Of course, the teachers' unions will fight such educational freedom since they might lose some union membership and dues.

Phil Mason

Your thoughts are spot on. I would add one specific change to the system. All federal, state AND local taxes that are conscripted from the public should follow the student to the school of choice of the family. Right now, only the state appropriated funds follow the student which is approx one-fourth of the total funding.

The uneven playing field is even worse than imagined - government schools do not incur ANY taxation, property or other, government schools get their new buildings and major reconstruction projects paid for by the state school facilities board, while charter and private schools must fund those projects out of limited state student approps.

Every student in the state has a student number regardless of their school of attendance. Simply send the money to the school of choice without even the need of vouchers.

This is the real CIvil Rights issue of our generation and must be prosecuted with vigor

Phil Mason

The newly released $$$ to the Classroom report by the Arizona Auditor General shows an even more troubling item than the waste of money by our local government school system.

Total revenues increased by over 34% since 2016 ($28,854,869 vs $21,688,212) while the graduation rate has dropped to 68% - that's right, 34% more money with a 32% graduation failure rate.

While this would be unacceptable even for inexperienced newly minted teachers, the sad fact is that the average teacher experience in PUSD is 17 years. If experienced teachers with an additional $7 million in revenues cannot achieve a graduation rate comparable to other like sized school districts in northern Arizona (most achieve approx. 85% graduation rate) it demonstrates that this district cannot be fixed - it appears that it must be ripped up from its roots and replaced with an organization that will achieve acceptable results with reasonable expenditures..

Ed DeCook

I am a retired teacher from California (I escaped from the dark side) and, unfortunately, I see Arizona proceeding down the same slope to mediocrity California has. Of course, this will generate significant funding for "Public Education", but at most 10% to 20% will actually make it into the classroom as teacher salaries and classroom supplies (though through accounting tricks the various education agencies will claim a great deal more going to the classroom). The lions share will go to growing the educational bureaucracy. This occurred in California until, when I retired, larger districts like mine (Anaheim Union High School District) had more administrators and administrative support staff than teachers and classroom staff.

Additionally, do not buy into the mirage that Arizona has one of the worst school systems in the country - if you compare like-to-like demographic groups, Arizona is in the top ten! I was struck upon relocating to Payson that most of your teenagers and young adults could do simple math in their heads and write a coherent sentence. These are unusual traits in California among all but the better students in well to do suburban districts in.

Your teachers, and other SCHOOL staff are badly underpaid - but this will not do a great deal to address this need. Rather, I fear, it will just feed the bureaucratic "rot" that destroyed California's educational system.

Phil Mason

Another misleading half-truth article from the mega public relations advocate for the government school industry. Let's look at some of the foundational false renderings.

Arizona government schools are NOT underfunded, but, rather, underperforming. Looking at PUSD, while Peter and the five dwarfs pound out stories of lack of funding by the legislature, the reality is that legislative funding amounts to only 29% of their revenues while their monopolistic scheme that sends ALL k-12 funds from property taxes to their failing system amounts to 60% of their revenues.

In the last few years the property tax revenues has increased by over $3 million annually while their student count has dramatically shrunk. That means they have had more money for fewer students and their failure rate increased. The bottom line: If you are a home owner and have come to the accurate conclusion that the government school is failing your children and decide to send them to a charter school, ALL of you taxes continue to go to the failing school and NONE of your taxes follow your children to the charter school. That is simply a self serving system that guarantees failure for our students.

To prove how crooked the system is, PUSD used to spend 62% of its total revenues to teacher pay and benefits. According to the Arizona Auditor General report released four days ago, that percentage has dropped to 50%. Who decided to strip millions from teacher pay while cynically lamenting teachers are underpaid??

With that horrible focus of priorities, Is it any wonder that one-third of the students fail to graduate with the student achievement scores near the bottom in the state.

It is time that the residents and businesses in Payson demand a complete demolition and reconstruction of the current system. All funding must follow the student and failing entities must be dissolved - for the future of our children.

Anything less than a complete restructuring of our k-12 failed system will simply retain the failed good-ol'-boy corrupt system that sentences our most precious assets - our children - to guaranteed failure.

PS: When accounting for property and other revenues in addition to legislative funding Arizona is not at the bottom of the funding stream but actually is in the top 30% for K-12 funding yet we ARE at the bottom in student achievement. When applied to the Cost of LIving and Median Income criteria, Arizona actually is in the top 30% for K-12 funding. Everything the union bosses in the government education industry sends out through its cohorts in the press is nothing but false messaging.

(Edited by staff.)

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