(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles on issues voters will face at the Nov. 7 election.)
There are a number of reasons to pass Proposition 301 — Education 2000, said Kristi Fredrickson, president of the Williams Education Association at the Sept. 26 Williams Rotary meeting.
She said the state’s numbers speak for themselves.
"Arizona ranks 50th in school per pupil spending, 49th in dropout rates — we have one of the worst, 47th in class size and 44th in teacher’s salaries," she said.
If Proposition 301 passes at the Nov. 7 general election, it will increase educational funding with a 0.6 of a cent increase to state sales tax. The increase would raise the current tax from 5 percent to 5.6 percent, an increase of 12 percent to the state’s rate.
"It’s six cents for every $10 you spend," Fredrickson said. "It will create nearly half a billion additional dollars for Arizona’s public schools."
The money will be used to increase teachers and staff salaries, lower classroom sizes, increase the number of days students attend school from 175 to 180, improve school safety programs, set up an accountability information system and pay for a low income tax credit. The proposition will also give money to universities and community colleges.
If approved, proposition 301 will raise about $445 million a year for education. About 80 percent of this will be earmarked for K-12 education. According to the Arizona Education Association, the revenues raised will be committed in this order:
• $70 million for revenue bond payments of Students First, which covers facility improvements.
• $45 million for universities (12 percent of total left) to invest in technology and research-based initiatives.
• $11.25 million for community college districts to invest in workforce programs.
• $15.3 million for one extra day each year added to school year.
• $7.8 million for school safety programs.
• $200,000 for matching grants for character education.
• $7 million for Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) and accountability measures.
• $1.5 million for tutoring grants.
• $25 million for low-income tax credit.
• $262.2 million for classroom site fund, which includes $104.9 million for performance pay for teachers, $52.4 million for base compensation increases and $104.9 million for discretionary needs, such as teacher salaries, class size reduction, AIMS intervention, teacher development and dropout prevention.
Gov. Jane Dee Hull, who is a former teacher, initiated the proposal and worked with the legislature to develop the plan to improve public schools. In the 2000 Ballot Propositions, sent to homes of registered voters, she stressed the importance of voting yes.
"It is time to lift Arizona up and recommit to our children’s education," she said in her arguments for Proposition 301. "Make no mistake, Arizona has fallen behind."
Gov. Hull said in 1980 Arizona ranked 34th in education funding. In 1990 Arizona ranked 40th and this year the state is dead last.
"This must change," she said. "A ‘yes’ vote will ensure our schools can attract and retain quality teachers, as well as have smaller class sizes. This money will go directly to the classroom where it will help our kids; not one cent will be used for administration."
John Sullivan, executive director of the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce who is also the Rotary president, said the numbers are disgraceful.
"I find those numbers to be outrageous — it’s almost criminal," he said.
Sullivan went on to say education is very important to the success of the business economy and the future of Arizona.
Gov. Hull said the proposition includes safeguards that traces where money goes and what it is spent on.
"The proposition will ensure that dollars are tracked down to the school level so you can see exactly how money is allocated," she said. "We will audit every school on a regular schedule, and we will identify failing schools so that you, the parents and taxpayers, will know if your neighborhood school is making the grade."
About $7 million of the expected funds will go to set up the SAIS.
Lisa Graham Keegan, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, urges voters to support the proposition.
"Arizona lags behind most states when it comes to investing in education," Keegan’s arguments state. "There can be no denying that a certain amount of money is necessary to properly educate children.
"With your approval, we will add nearly $350 per pupil to our K-12 system, raising per pupil expenditures to over $5,000. This money is required to go directly to classrooms."
In the arguments against the proposition, Valley Business Owners and Concerned Citizens, Inc. (VBO) and Jeff Groscost, the speaker on behalf of Arizona House of Representative majority leader Lori Daniels, voiced their concerns.
"As leaders of the House of Representatives, we witnessed historic recognition, by most all members, of the need to improve the public education system and to provide more funding to public schools," Groscost’s arguments state. "Raising your taxes does not help meet that goal. You shouldn’t be forced to choose between the largest tax increase in state history or increased funding for public schools."
The VBO said there are four reasons not to support the issue — the sales tax increase is regressive, is bad for small business, hides the true cost of the tax and increases the cost to government.
"The VBO, promoting truth in government and the overall economic well-being of the community, urges you to read all 89 pages of this legislation and then vote no," the VBO arguments state.
Fredrickson said if Proposition 301 doesn’t pass, Arizona is bound to stay right where it is — at the bottom.
"Right now we have the fourth largest classroom size, a huge dropout rate and we need to pass AIMS," she said. "Our children are depending on us. Please help us change the picture of Arizona’s children and Arizona’s future."