Arizona’s education sinkhole is awfully deep.

So the nearly $1 billion Proposition 208 would inject into K-12 schools each year won’t work miracles, concluded the Grand Canyon Institute’s analysis of the effect of the Nov. 4 ballot measure.

However, a big increase in the state’s income tax rate for people making more than $250,000 annually will reduce the state’s dramatically growing teacher shortage, increase the state’s calamitous high school graduation and college attendance rates and bolster career education.

But even after the smoke clears, the state will likely still have low teacher salaries, gigantic class sizes and low student test scores, the think tank researchers concluded in their meticulous 24-page summary of potential impacts of Proposition 208 as early voters start returning their ballots.

The big increase in the top income tax rate will affect an estimated 30,000 Arizona income taxpayers, about half of whom receive income through a business they own. Perhaps 100 rich folks will move out of state as a result, the researchers concluded.

The analysis suggested that the state income tax paid by a married couple with $750,000 in taxable income annually would increase by $9,000. The tax on a couple making $2 million in taxable income would increase by $52,000 — about 61%.

The new tax could cost the state economy about 1,000 jobs a year if businesses leave or decide not to come to the state, the analysis concluded. That’s about one-tenth the impact included in an earlier analysis by the conservative Goldwater Institute.

On the other hand, the 1%-3% projected increase in the high school graduation rate and the college attendance rate could cause a lifetime increase in income for students, based on previous national studies. That could create as much as $2 billion annually in additional income, including a $1.3 billion boost to the state economy if 65% of high school and college graduates remain in state.

Education accounts for more than half of all state spending, and the state has among the lowest teacher salaries and largest class sizes in the country. Arizona also has low high school graduation rates, compared to the rest of the nation. Proposition 208 grew out of the Red for Ed movement intended to address the state’s longstanding school funding problems.

The proposition has split the District 6 candidates for the state House and state Senate, mostly along party lines. Voters can pick two House candidates and one Senate candidate in the district that stretches from Flagstaff to the White Mountains.

Republican House candidates Walt Blackman and Brenda Barton both oppose the measure. During their tenures, they have stressed the value of school choice over increasing public school budgets. Republican Senate candidate Wendy Rogers has also opposed Proposition 208.

Democratic candidates Coral Evans (House) and Felicia French (Senate) both strongly favor it, as well as other increases in education spending. So does House independent candidate Art Babbott.

The additional 3.5% income tax surcharge for people making more than $250,000 would generate about $810 million for schools in 2021. The allocation of that money includes:

• $405 million for hiring and wage increases for teachers and classroom support

$203 million for student support services workers

$81 million for teacher retention programs.

$97 million for vocational and career education

$24 million for a sixfold increase in the Arizona Teachers Academy funding

The Grand Canyon Institute analysis noted that despite the Arizona Legislature’s approval of enough new money to boost the average teacher salary by 20% in the past three years, the state still lags far behind the national average.

The deficit is especially evident when it comes to class sizes. In 1992, Arizona ranked 39th nationally when it came to average class sizes. By 2018, we had declined to 50th. The average classroom in Arizona has 50% more students than the average classroom nationally.

Per-student funding also declined dramatically in the decade after the onset of the great recession. State funding per teacher stood at 70% of the national average in 1992, but just 40% in 2018. The Legislature cut school funding by an estimated $4 billion during the recession, when the state’s sales tax dependent revenues dropped by a third.

The analysis concluded that the 20% teacher pay raise in the past three years stabilized the worsening teacher shortage. However, districts continue to rely on emergency credentials and new flexibility to waive normal training requirements to fill slots — especially in math and science.

Research suggests that sharply decreasing class sizes — especially in elementary school — has a significant impact on student achievement. However, Proposition 208 wouldn’t generate enough money to have much impact on class sizes. Arizona currently has 1.15 million students and a student-teacher ratio of 23.3. Reducing the student teacher ratio to 22.3 would require 2,000 more teachers, which would cost roughly $120 million.

As a result, the analysis concluded the measure would probably not produce a significant decrease in class sizes, but would make possible an 8%-10% increase in teacher salaries. The measure would probably not have a big impact on student test scores, but could have an impact on vocational and career education as well as college attendance and high school graduation.

Research suggests the big boost in career and technical education programs could have big effects. One study by the Brookings Institute compared students who just barely qualified for CTE programs and those not admitted. Participating in the program boosted attendance rates by 14%, graduation rates by 10% and earnings by the age of 23 by 30%. Proposition 208 would boost the $150 million now spent on CTE funding by $100 million.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(1) comment

Mike White

I am not in the listed high income tax brackets, but I still have to question the fairness of voting to tax other people who are in a minority of the population and cannot protect themselves in the ballot box. Why don't we just vote to tax them at 95% or 98% while we're at it? Lots of free money in the short term. Many of these people are small business owners who have taken great risks to start their businesses and make them flourish over time. Reducing the rewards for taking risks may well impact the number of employees these small business owners hire and continue to employ, rendering the article's claim of increased employment highly questionable. I think we have to be careful when we justify all the benefits resulting from confiscating wealth from others who have worked hard to earn it. Class envy and seeking free money are tempting forms of greed, after all.

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