Prop 208 and the Future of Education in Arizona

The national media has its eyes on newly designated swing state Arizona as the country heads into the 2020 presidential election cycle. Meanwhile, Arizona educators have their eyes on a different agenda: strengthening public schools and fixing the alleged “education funding crisis”.

The #InvestInEd movement was born from the Arizona teacher strike two years ago that fought for higher wages and filling in the financial gaps caused by budget cuts. The movement consists of educators, administrators, and volunteers advocating for a ballot initiative to tax the top one percent of earners in the State of Arizona. The movement expects to raise “hundreds of millions of dollars” for K-12 education with a proposed 3.5 percent surcharge on income taxes for the highest earners. 

In 2018, the #InvestInEd was knocked off the November ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court that aimed to restore approximately $1 billion in education cuts since the Great Recession of 2008. The ruling said the initiative “did not accurately represent the increased tax burden on the affected classes of taxpayers”.

Despite the obvious setback in 2018, the #InvestInEd movement is back this election cycle with the same demands. The group submitted over 400 thousand signatures in July, well over the 237 thousand needed to qualify for the ballot.

The measure was struck down again, this time by the Superior Court of Arizona of Maricopa County. Judge Christopher Coury claimed that #InvestInEd’s ballot proposal was misleading because it failed to identify key principal provisions in its 100-word description.

“Instead of identifying all principal provisions in the Initiative’s description, Defendant Invest in Education circulated an opaque ‘trojan horse’ of a 100-word description, concealing principal provisions of the Initiative,” Coury wrote.

In a statement from the #InvestInEd movement, “Disappointed and confused by the ‘political’ ruling issued today by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Cristopher Coury, the #InvestInEd campaign is again headed to the Arizona Supreme Court — the very bench that kicked off the 2018 measure. The campaign’s appel is imminent.”

The movement has filed an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. The Court sided with #InvestInEd and the initiative is set to be on Arizona ballots this November. Opponents are upset with the decision, claiming the language doesn’t accurately portray the increased tax burden that now-called Prop 208 would put on small business owners.

It’s now up to voters to ultimately decide the fate of #InvestInEd and Prop 208. The Arizona Constitution is unique in the sense that all ballot initiatives are effectively permanent and cannot be undone by legislative action. Proponents see this as an opportunity to expand public education opportunities while opponents argue that this locks in Arizonans with no room for change down the road.

But the question remains, is money the problem? One Arizona educator disagrees.

“Money is not the problem, especially considering the great funding we receive from our taxes. What is the true problem, and at the root of many of the problems is money management. With money constantly flowing in, much of the money is spent on arbitrary developments and never reaches the classroom.” says Mrs. Heidi Decker, a third-grade teacher in Avondale. 

Mrs. Decker also said that oftentimes, school districts are the ones making decisions about curriculum despite lack of experience.

“They fail to provide the correct resources or correct professional development to teachers which causes student success to be low. Often, the people making decisions about where the funding should go or what curriculum to purchase are people that aren’t educators or have only taught one or two years. So, they are the ones deciding how teachers should teach and what resources are best? It shouldn’t work that way. If there is money there, let’s use it to truly train teachers and give teachers the option to be on decision making when it comes to programs and how we teach it.”

Opponents of the initiative say that there is no accountability for where funds go and no guarantee that funding will go to the classroom. They also claim that Prop 208 would be the greatest tax increase in Arizona history, moving the top marginal tax rate 4.5% to 8%, an alleged 77.7% increase. Small businesses would be hurt the most, making up 50% of tax filers affected by the proposed tax.

As Arizonans head to the polls to choose the next leader of the free world, they also have an important choice for the future of education in Arizona.

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