Originally published Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 06:00a.m.
When Arizona became a state in 1912, Congress provided the state government with 10 million acres of land. Congress required that Arizona place revenues from the sale or lease of the land into a trust, which would be used for schools and universities.
In a special session in June 2000, the Legislature approved S.B. 1007, also known as Proposition 301, which included various funding increases for public schools, community colleges and universities, as well as other changes directed at “financial and academic accountability . . . [of] Arizona’s K-12 system.” This measure included a proposed 0.6 percent increase in the transaction privilege tax and directed the monies from that tax increase to public education. It was predicted that this increase would bring in between $450 million and $780 million annually for the Arizona education system.
The ballot measure approved by voters in 2000 also required “automatic inflation adjustments in the state aid to education base level or other components of a school district’s revenue control limit.”
In 2010, K-12 school districts and charter schools alleged that during the Great Recession in 2007, the state ignored Proposition 301. The schools alleged they were shorted necessary funding required under the measure.
In May 2016, Proposition 123, known as the Arizona Education Finance Amendment, passed with a 51 percent vote. This ballot measure was designed to increase education funding by $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years by allocating money from the general fund and increasing annual distributions of the state land trust permanent funds to education. Prop 123 allocated some of the trust fund’s principal, whereas Congress only authorized the state to spend just the interest earned on the revenue invested.
Arizona Treasurer and chairman of the Board of Investment Jeff DeWit asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich to consider the legality of Prop 123. DeWit argued that the measure violated the original federal law that granted Arizona 10 million acres of federal land to support schools. The law said that the schools “shall forever remain under the exclusive control” of the state. Since charter schools in Arizona can be run privately but would receive public funds under Proposition 123, DeWit argued that the measure was illegal.
On March 26, 2018, Judge Neil Wake of the U.S. District Court of Arizona denied a motion to dismiss a case against the voter-approved ballot measure, Prop 123. The litigation claimed that the measure was an unconstitutional use of land trust funds. Judge Wake said the state could be required to refund some of the revenue – at least $344 million – removed from the trust fund.
Money that could be invested in education is being spent elsewhere. Currently the state spends $4.5 billion per year on K-12 education, but “gives away” $13.5 billion via corporate sales tax loopholes. The laws which are allowing this haven’t been reviewed since the 1970s. And that is on top of the $344 million owed to the schools of Arizona because of the trust fund land sales.
Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Roger Jacks has been shorted over $3 million for the 2017-2018 school year alone.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage for teachers in KUSD is $37,000. Arizona is currently ranked 50th in teacher wages and would need a 7-percent wage increase to move up to No. 48, according to state senator and gubernatorial candidate Steve Farley.
Teachers need to be paid, and the Daily Miner is in full support of teachers receiving a competitive salary increase.
Quality education enables people to develop all of their attributes and skills to achieve their potential as human beings and members of society. Governments and other public authorities should ensure that a quality education service is available to all citizens from early childhood into adulthood. Education provides the foundation for equity in society and is one of the most basic public services. It not only enlightens but also empowers citizens and enables them to contribute to the maximum extent possible to the social and economic development of their communities.
How can Arizona have a quality education if we can’t afford quality teachers? How can Kingman hire quality educators on an average salary that is even lower than the state median of $45,000?
The fact is, we can’t.
Since the beginning of this school year, Arizona has lost at least 1,000 teachers, and 52 percent of teaching positions are vacant or filled by someone underqualified, according to Farley.
With turnover that high, students aren’t even given a chance. Classroom sizes are too large for them to get the one-on-one time needed, teachers are changing from year to year, or even semester to semester. There is no consistency, which is needed throughout childhood development, especially education.
If schools were being funded as they are supposed to, and not at the same level they were during the recession, there would not only be enough funding to give teachers a competitive wage increase, but we could have spare funding for resource officers and school safety.
Everyone has a right to education, and a right to quality education. When is Arizona going to start giving students that right?