Flanked by legislators, public education advocates and school superintendents, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey presented a plan on June 4 that would put a higher percentage of earnings from state trust land investments into public K-12 education.
Since then, members of the governor’s cabinet have travelled the state to talk with education group gatherings to reinforce what Ducey has identified as the merits of the plan.
On Saturday, June 13, Dawn Wallace, Ducey’s education policy advisor, spoke briefly to attendees at the Arizona School Boards Association’s Summer Leadership Institute in Flagstaff. On Monday, June 15, Wallace and Kirk Adams, Ducey’s chief of staff, spoke at the annual Arizona School Administrators conference in Tucson.
Public education is by far the largest beneficiary of the 8.1 million acres of trust land, most of which is used for livestock grazing, according to the Arizona State Land Department. The proposal would not sell state trust lands, instead it would tap into more of the investment income that has been generated over the years from investing proceeds from grazing rights, leases for natural resource uses and commercial development purposes.
“Right now the state’s land trust stands at a near record high of $5.1 billion,” Ducey said during a press conference in Central High School’s library in Phoenix. “Thanks to Proposition 118 the trust is set to consistently feed dollars to beneficiaries, but last year it was less than $100 million.”
Ducey noted that “the land trust is an incredible asset.”
“Estimates are that the remaining land still in the trust could amount to up to $70 billion in value – all of which will be realized by future generations of Arizonans – but our kids have needs today,” Ducey said. “I don’t believe that raising taxes is wise or necessary in a tough economy when we have $5 billion sitting on the sidelines.”
Currently, a limited amount of funds equating to 2.5 percent from the state land trust are now distributed annually to public schools for classroom use through the Classroom Site Fund, said Dr. Timothy Ogle, executive director of Arizona School Boards Association.
“Today I offer a fiscally sound, responsible plan that I believe we can all get behind,” Ducey said. “It’s one that’s non-partisan, that won’t burden our budget that won’t raise taxes and it won’t slow our economy. My hope is that it serves as a unifying issue that we can all rally behind.”
Ducey outlined a plan to increase the amount of state trust land fund earnings that go to education from the current 2.5 percent to 10 percent for the next five years.
“That would mean at least $325 million a year in new dollars to our schools. Nearly $2 billion total over the five year period,” Ducey said.
During the following five years, the percentage would decrease to five percent and would return to the current 2.5 percent level after that.
“After five years, to protect the value and the health of the trust the distribution will be roughly five percent for the following five years. Double the current rate of today,” Ducey said.
Kent Scribner, superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District, said the governor’s plan “is just one piece of the puzzle” to increasing funding for public education.
“We’re grateful that the governor has recognized the need to increase funding for public education,” Scribner said. “He is leading this effort by proposing an innovative approach to add new education dollars to our schools and not to replace existing dollars.”
Tim Carter, a member of the State Board of Education and the Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools, said that “county superintendents reviewed a plan that was somewhat like this two or three years ago.”
Carter noted that at that point they weren’t sure what kind of percentages would be needed to raise additional dollars.
“We were thinking that the concept was a sound one to bring additional dollars to the classroom,” Carter said.
Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the proposal was a “good sign.”
“We’ve all seen the same reports. It’s hard to describe in Arizona opportunity for all when we are underfunded,” Morrill said.
Beth Maloney, 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year, said she is “hopeful that his (Ducey’s) proposal and commitment to work together will benefit the reason we are all here – Arizona’s students.”
“The children of our state are our most valuable resource. They are our future. So it only stand to reason, that we would invest valuable resources in them,” Maloney said. “As teachers we know that students’ success rests on our shoulders. To have the resources to do our jobs effectively will only improve the outcomes that we all work so hard for.”
Since the funding formula from state lands is set by the Arizona Constitution, Ducey’s plan will require voter approval, according to the Arizona Capitol Times.
At the press conference, Ducey asked “the legislature to act on promptly when it reconvenes.”
The plan “allows Arizonans to decide whether they want more resources in our public schools. I’m confident they will say yes, and I’ll be leading the effort with many others,” Ducey said.
“Ultimately the citizens of our great state will have to approve this on the ballot,” said Sharon Harper, vice chairman of Greater Phoenix Leadership. “GPL supports the concept of the proposal, and we all stand ready to work with the governor and with the legislature to advance the proposal and earn the support of the Arizona voters.”
Sen. Carlyle Begay, (D-7), a member of the education committee, said he was “very pleased to see different options on the table to help fund education.”
“My biggest concern is always to look at ways those resources will affect my district,” Begay said. “Phoenix and Maricopa County are very different than the Navajo Nation. I want to make sure that these resources get to schools in rural areas that are doing great things.”
Although he had questions about Ducey’s plan and said it provided a small amount of funding of about $300 per student, House Democratic leader Eric Meyer said “when I see the details I will probably be supportive of it if it brings dollars to the classroom and doesn’t undermine the integrity of the fund,” in an Arizona Capitol Times article.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas was unable to attend the press conference because she was in Globe for her “We Are Listening” state-wide tour.
“The Governor’s plan provides a much needed large increase in funding to schools while also adhering to our joint philosophy that raising taxes on parents will not help schools,” Douglas said. “I will first look to ensure that the additional money is sustainable so that districts can depend on the funding over time without diminishing the principle (known as corpus) of the trust fund. Secondly, I’ll look at what method will be used to distribute the money. Is it an addition to the basic state aid, targeted to needy children, or be distributed by other criteria?”
Greg Miller, president of the Arizona State Board of Education, agreed with Ducey that we “need to increase resources for education.”
“There will be a lot of other things happening at the same time, but I don’t want to see people defer the other issues,” Miller said. “We still have to address the other issues.”
At the press conference, Ducey said this plan is unrelated to the school inflation funding lawsuit in which settlement talks continue.
“Just as I did last year, I will ask the legislature to fund inflation, next year, the year after and ongoing,” Ducey said.
The proposal builds on Proposition 118, a previous ballot proposal that Ducey successfully promoted as state treasurer in 2012, that increased the money from the state-land trust proceeds to schools to 2.5 percent a year, about $80 million annually, according to The Arizona Republic.
Scribner noted that “the connection between education and the economy is undeniable. An innovative workforce in a prosperous economy in Arizona require that K-12 public schools ensure that all of our students – over 1 million strong – are college and career ready.”
“Greater Phoenix Leadership has long held that we need to have high quality teachers in the classroom and that these teachers need to be paid a decent salary,” Harper said. “Governor Ducey also supports this notion, and with this action to utilize our state trust the governor is making good on his commitment.”
Scribner agreed that “adequate resources are the foundation of our teaching and learning environment.”
“Our state has made drastic cuts while enduring tough economic times and a plan that begins to restore resources to support student success is a step in the right direction,” Scribner said. “We must move from the bottom of national rankings for funding to the top.”
ASBA Video: AZ Gov. Doug Ducey’s K-12 Announcement