A citizen-developed roadmap calls on Arizona’s elected representatives to listen to the will of the people, follow the Arizona constitution, put the state’s future above politics, and invest in public education as a shared benefit for all Arizonans.
The 110th Arizona Town Hall on Funding preK-12 Education tackled Arizona’s outdated and convoluted education funding system with an eye toward building a more vital and competitive state.
“Stop starving our public schools of funding” was the overarching recommendation of the 110th Arizona Town Hall which wrapped on Nov. 15 in Mesa. Three days of discussions were informed by a data-rich background report, and by input from more than a dozen smaller Community Town Halls, as well as Future Leaders Town Halls held all across the state in the months preceding the statewide gathering.
Using the Town Hall’s tried and true process of civil discourse and consensus dialogue, participants from rural and urban places, colleges, universities, small businesses and business advocacy organizations, education professionals including retired teachers and district leaders, all weighed in to help shape the final roadmap.
They recommend that Arizona reverse the effects of a decade of budget cuts by providing an additional $2.35 billion in education investment annually, in addition to one-time investment of $1.64 billion, to be broken down in the following ways:
• A one-time investment of $1.3 billion to address existing deficiencies, including deferred maintenance
• An additional $900 million annually to bring teacher pay in line with the national median
• An additional $380 million annually to restore the capital funding formula
• An additional $250 million annually to update and fully fund building renewal
• A one-time investment of $343 million for new school construction and an annual investment of $250 million
• An additional $240 million annually to implement full day Kindergarten
• An additional $200 million annually to develop and implement state-funded pre-K program
• Additional investments for teacher recruitment and retention, in-state tuition waivers, student loan repayment programs, early childhood education, community college workforce development programs, programs that serve higher need students, measures to reduce class size.
Almost 40 percent of the recommended increase in annual funding would address the critical shortage of qualified teachers by increasing teacher pay. “This is an emergency that needs to be addressed immediately,” noted the recommendations report.
Participants also found that Arizona’s current “one size fits all” funding mechanism is inequitable because of variables between and among traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools receiving tax credits.
The report notes that performance-based funding, both student and teacher-based, often deprives the schools with the greatest need because the schools that are already graduating highly proficient students are getting more money, which means less money is going to the under-performing schools, thus widening the funding – and performance – gap.
Participants agreed Arizona should consider changes that would make the system fairer, including funding schools based on their prior year student count, modifying the current property tax qualifying rate to a universal state property tax rate, allowing schools to obtain capital funding ahead of swelling student populations, removing unfunded mandates affecting public schools, streamlining bureaucracy, and implementing a statewide technology solution.
Recognizing the need to convince the public and elected officials to make the needed investments and changes. Participants called for more frequent and more effective communication with the community about education funding, and recommended that Arizonans hold elected officials accountable if they do not provide adequate funding.
Town Hall participants identified several funding streams that might be tapped to pay for such critical investments:
• Renew and expand Proposition 301 to provide for an incremental statewide sales tax of 1.5 percent (in lieu of current 0.6 percent)
• Repeal limitations on Legislature-approved tax increases that were enacted pursuant to Proposition 108
• Modernize the basic formula for state funding of preK-12 education to level the playing field among different types of schools and diverse student populations
• Implement new uniform statewide property tax to provide an additional revenue
• Adjust the equalization formula to require all districts to levy the qualifying tax rate, which, if levied uniformly across the state, would generate nearly $200 million in additional funding on an annual basis
• Streamline the bureaucracy in preK-12 education system, focusing on whether the differences in the rules applicable to traditional school districts versus charter schools make sense and contribute to adequate, equitable funding throughout the system
• Revisit and repeal tax credit and private school tuition scholarship programs that essentially utilize public funds for private endeavors, ultimately resulting in an increased financial burden on the public school system
• Create new and improved policies requiring accountability for use of all taxpayer dollars in our preK-12 schools
• Use bonding authority to address deferred maintenance and other significant capital deficiencies
• Create potential revenue streams such as sales taxes on professional or other services, or excise taxes
• Close corporate tax loopholes
The report puts the responsibility for leading the education investment efforts on the Governor, the Superintendent of Schools, elected leaders, and education advocacy groups.
Additionally, the report calls on the engagement of chambers of commerce, educational foundations, business groups and economic development agencies to play critical roles.
Individual Arizonans are also encouraged to take action to advance the urgent implementation of the priorities in support of the state’s education funding needs and its overall success now and into the future.
Arizona Town Hall recommendations will continue to be shared across the state to inspire citizens to take action to advance the ideas in their community, organization, business or in broader efforts including local and statewide elections.
Companies and organizations across the state may request presentations on these findings and add to the recommendations, by contacting the Arizona Town Hall at 602.252.9600.