New Invest in Ed initiative announced for 2020 ballot - AZEdNews
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New Invest in Ed initiative announced for 2020 ballot

Joe Thomas, Right, President Of The Arizona Education Association, Talks About The Invest In Ed Initiative While David Lujan, Left, Director Of The Arizona Center For Economic Progress, Who Helped Draft The Initiative, During A Press Conference Jan. 13, 2020 At The Arizona Capitol In The Rose Garden. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Leaders of the Invest In Ed movement today announced a ballot initiative that would raise more than $900 million a year for Arizona public K-12 education if approved by voters in the 2020 general election.

“About an hour ago, we filed for initiative the Invest in Education Act, and we are very excited for the opportunity that we get only every two years to put in front of the voters a vision of Arizona – a very different vision for what Arizona needs to be successful than what you’re going to hear today (from the governor),” said Joe Thomas, a social studies teacher from Mesa who serves as president of the Arizona Education Association.

Video by Morgan Willis/ AZEdNews: Invest in Ed initiative announced

In August 2018, an Arizona Supreme Court ruling took a similarly named but differently worded initiative off the ballot with then Chief Justice Scott Bales noting that, “A majority of the court finds that the proposition’s description of the change in tax rate combined with the omission of any discussion of changes in indexing for inflation collectively creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness” and finds the ballot language is inadequate by law. 

At the press conference today, Marisol Garcia, a teacher from the Isaac School District who serves as vice president of the Arizona Education Association, said her son, Vicente, who has gone through Arizona public schools from kindergarten through eighth grade, has had the same experience as millions of Arizona students.

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Marisol Garcia, vice president of Arizona Education Association, describes the conditions which her son and children across Arizona have gone to public school have experienced for the past nine years at the Invest in Ed initiative press conference Jan. 13, 2020 at the Arizona Capitol rose garden. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

“The state allowing instability and underfunding of his education,” Garcia said. “He has to be, along with every son and daughter, the priority of this state.”

Retired teachers and other education advocates carrying signs supporting Invest in Ed surrounded the speakers at the press conference at the Arizona Capitol rose garden.

“For the past few years, Arizona’s business leaders have consistently said that increased funding for Arizona’s public schools is critical to produce the skilled workforce Arizona needs for a strong economic future,” said David Lujan, director of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress.

“The Invest in Ed ballot initiative will provide the strategic investments Arizona needs in it’s public schools to attract new businesses and jobs to our state and boost long-term economic growth, and that is a pro-business strategy,” Lujan said.

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David Lujan, director of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress, describes how the Invest in Ed initiative would add more than $900 million in funding to K-12 public education annually at a press conference Jan. 13, 2020 at the Arizona Capitol rose garden. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

The details

“When passed, the Invest in Education Act will add an income tax surcharge only to the wealthiest earners in Arizona,” Lujan said.

Individuals earning more than $250,000 a year and households earning more than $500,000 a year would pay a 3.5 percent surcharge on the taxable income they earn in excess of $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for households if the Investment in Education Act is approved by voters.

“Based on Arizona Department of Revenue models, this will generate $940 million annually for teachers, counselors, therapists, support staff, vocational education and other critical services,” Luhan said.

Click here to read the Invest in Education Act in its entirety as it was filed with the Arizona Secretary of State, on Jan. 13, 2020.

“When passed, the top 1 percent of earners in Arizona – the ones who will be subject to this surcharge – will still pay a lower effective tax rate than 25 other states and lower state income taxes than the national average,” Lujan said.

That is because this surcharge only applies to the taxable income earned in excess of $250,000 for single filers or $500,000 for joint filers, Lujan said.

“Any income they earn below those accounts will be taxed under Arizona’s current income tax brackets, which we are not changing, and which are the fourth lowest in the nation,” Lujan said.

“If Invest in Ed passes, the effective tax rate for the top 1 percent of earners in Arizona will be 4.4 percent,” Lujan said. “The average effective tax rate for the top 1 percent nationally is 4.6 percent.”

“And most importantly, Arizona’s public schools will have $940 million in new, annual, permanent funding to educate our students,” Lujan said.

What people are saying about it

The initiative will likely face opposition from Gov. Ducey who said in his State of the State address today that he would not support any tax increases.

Also, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the previous version of the initiative in 2018 is skeptical of the new proposal, according to an Arizona Republic article.

If this initiative is passed by voters, the amount would be distributed to each school district based on its prior year’s average daily membership, said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials at their bi-monthly membership meeting on Jan. 15, 2020.

Average daily membership is the number of full-time and part-time students attending classes during the first 100 days of school.

“A rough estimate is that would be about $830 per student,” Essigs said at the meeting.

“On the Invest in Ed initiative it’s also very interesting how they have been very clear to lay out how the money would be spent,” said Dr. Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators. “It’s very carefully driven to the teachers with some classroom spending.”

The plan does not let administrators get their hands on those funds at all, Dr. Joraanstad said.

“They pre-empted basically some of the lines of attack that have been used by opponents of such initiatives in the past, where they said you can’t trust how administrators might spend the money,” Dr. Joraanstad said.

The Invest in Ed initiative creators laid out very carefully how the funds will be driven to the classrooms, with some for career and technical education, Dr. Joraanstad said.

“I think they’ve really tried to anticipate how opponents might attack the measure so they’ve really been prescriptive on how it will be spent,” Dr. Joraanstad said.

There is also some talk at the legislature of raising the six tenths of a percent sales tax that currently supports the Classroom Site Fund to a full cent sales tax, Essigs said.

That would also require voter approval and there’s no initiative out there on that, but there are some people talking about a legislative change, Essigs said.

On the education sales tax proposal, “we’re now moving into that range where we are outside of the voter protections on how Prop. 301 money will be distributed,” said Pima Unified School District Superintendent Sean Rickert.

Senate Bill 1059 that will be heard next Tuesday in Senate Ed that will basically collapse the three buckets” of funding into one funding source, “and it expands what funds can be used for in some important ways,” said Rickert, who also serves as Arizona Rural School Association Southeast region representative and advocacy representative.

“Look for those changes in how those monies are going to be distributed, because that’s something that can have an impact on next year’s budget,” Rickert said.

Where the plan came from

The Invest in Ed coalition studied all potential revenue sources in putting this ballot measure together, including income, sales, property tax, other fees and combinations of those taxes with the goal of finding a way to raise education funding without hurting working families or folks on fixed incomes, Lujan said.

“We’ve asked parents, we’ve asked educators, we’ve asked anyone that we can engage in a conversation, “What is it that our schools need to be successful?” Thomas said. “They’ve identified the priorities, and we’ve included them in Invest in Ed.”

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Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, talks about the Invest in Ed initiative during a press conference Jan. 13, 2020 at the Arizona Capitol rose garden. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

“What Invest in Ed does, very briefly, is it is an absolute game changer,” Thomas said. “It brings in annually $900 million to our public schools distributed equally across the state to where every student ends up with the opportunity to have a quality public education.”

What it does

An Invest in Ed press release says half the money would go to increasing teacher and classroom support staff salaries, 25 percent to student support staff, 12 percent to high school career and technical education programs,10 percent to teacher mentoring and retention, and 3 percent to the Arizona Teachers Academy.

Voter approval of the Invest in Ed Act “will end the teacher exodus. There’s money to lower class size. There’s money to provide supports by hiring counselors and social workers and all the other specialists that address the very particular needs of our students so teachers can focus on the classroom,” Thomas said.

“There’s resources in there to where we can lift our starting salaries for educators to where we have competitive salaries with every state around us,” Thomas said. “There are 1800 classrooms right now that don’t have a qualified, certified teacher in then, and if you’re watching, your student may be in one of them.”

“It wasn’t always like that,” Thomas said. “Arizona could attract top talent to this state, because we paid people fairly, we had a little bit lower class size, and teachers and educators felt respected. That has been absent for 10 years, and certainly was absent in 2018 when educators came down here to voice their displeasure with the vision that was put in front of us then.”

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The Invest in Ed Act brings in new teacher supports, a teacher mentoring system, support for aspiring educators to come out of college and not be saddled with debt and an end to the teacher exodus, Thomas said.

Garcia noted that when educators and education advocates came down to the capitol last year, “we made it very clear that this movement, that this discussion was not just about teacher salaries. It was about reforming and reshaping the entire school system.”

“My son and every son and daughter deserves stable funding that includes qualified educators that want to stay in the schools that they serve, serve in the communities that they live in and, more importantly, buy homes and stay there so that they can be a very strong part of the community,” Garcia said.

“Our funding has not allowed that to happen,” Garcia said. “Teachers come. Teachers go. It is time for us to take back the power and go and make this a priority.”

The Invest in Ed initiative will “fundamentally change education in the state of Arizona,” and “I know all my colleagues across the state – thousands of them – are going to join me in getting signatures and getting this on the ballot,” Garcia said.

“We know we’re going to be able to go out and get the signatures, because the community helped us craft this,” Thomas said. “They support our educators. They support our students, and they want to create great public schools for every student in this state.

“Arizona is ready to Invest in Ed, and so are we,” Thomas said.

Why it’s time

The Invest in Education Act will be good for Arizona businesses big and small, Lujan said.

“One of the best ways to help small businesses to grow and succeed is to graduate skilled workers from our high schools and colleges,” Lujan said.

The Invest in Ed initiative will set aside millions of dollars to help build strong career and vocational education programs in Arizona’s public high schools so students who may not go to college immediately can graduate with the skills that employers are looking for, Lujan said.

“Invest in Ed will make an extraordinary improvement to our state and it’s education system. It’s the right policy for Arizona, and it’s time,” Lujan said.

There are many strategies to increase educational attainment, but nearly all of them will require new investments into public education, Lujan said.

“That is a significant barrier considering Arizona’s public schools began this school year with less funding than a decade ago,” Lujan said.

“The more we empower Arizonans to move up the economic ladder through increased educational attainment, the more money they will spend in the economy and the more jobs they will create,” Lujan said.

“If you want to step on the gas and fuel a robust economic future for Arizona then invest in education is the solution,” Lujan said.