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Arizona #RedForEd Organizers Mobilize After Major Blow To Education Funding Ballot Initiative

Arizona’s highest court this week has knocked down a ballot initiative that would have raised income taxes to help fund schools. Red for Ed organizers are mobilizing now that a major education proposition is gone.

Several dozen parents, politicians, teachers and activists gathered outside Arizona’s Supreme Court on Thursday to protest the ruling.

They were part of the campaign that helped gather more than 150,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Preschool teacher Barbara Backyard was dismayed when she heard the court’s decision.

“Instantly, I remembered how there were 100,000 of us out here in red shirts that were trying to state what it is we want," Backyard said. "We want an improvement in education, we want teachers to be paid well, we want teachers to have the resources they need in the classes.”

She said Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to allocate more money to teacher salaries doesn’t go far enough.

That’s where the Invest in Education Act, Proposition 207, would have come in. The state’s top income-tax rate of 4.46 percent would have risen to 8 percent for individuals making more than $250,000 and 9 percent for those making more than $500,000 a year.

That extra money would go straight to schools and proponents say that would have generated $690 million a year.

But the court said petitions failed to clearly explain the measure and its consequences. Invest in Education chairman and teacher Josh Buckley says the ruling is unfair.

“No language is ever going to be perfectly clear," Buckley said a press conference Thursday. "We believe the language we wrote was clear. We think it did exactly what we wanted it to do, which was to generate this money for schools, and that the 100-word summary did that.”

A majority of the judges didn’t agree. They said the measure would have eliminated an inflationary adjustment known as “indexing.” And that would have resulted in smaller tax increases on lower-income residents which is something the petitions failed to make clear.

“I think they were looking for a way to eliminate this from bringing it up to the general public to vote," Backyard said. "That’s our right, we have a right to vote on things.”

Greene said he understood the summary description when he signed the petition. 

“It was never sold to me as a tax on the wealthy, it was sold as an equitable raise in across-the-board funding for education," Greene said. "So I’m here to say I think it’s unfair that we are not allowed to vote. I think that’s an affront to democracy, and it hurts my heart.”

Thursday’s protest drew a few counter-protesters, who chimed in during the chanting that "Red for ed was dead."

Parent Sean Greene doesn’t think #RedForEd is dead, even though he won’t have a chance to vote for Proposition 207 this fall.

“I think they deserve the opportunity and all of us who decided to sign and got on the ballot have the right to vote," Greene said. "I think waiting and hoping that we vote enough people in to make a change is not necessarily striking while the iron is hot.”

While that education initiative won’t be on the ballot, at least a dozen teachers will be.

#RedForEd organizers are meeting over the holiday weekend to discuss their next moves.

Casey Kuhn reports from KJZZ’s West Valley Bureau. She comes to Phoenix from the Midwest, where she graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.Kuhn got her start in radio reporting in college at the community public radio station, WFHB. She volunteered there as a reporter and worked her way up to host the half-hour, daily news show. After graduating, she became a multimedia reporter at Bloomington's NPR/PBS station WFIU/WTIU, where she reported for and produced a weekly statewide news television show.Since moving to the Southwest, she’s discovered a passion for reporting on rural issues, agriculture and the diverse people who make up her community.Kuhn was born and raised in Cincinnati, where her parents instilled in her a love of baseball, dogs and good German beer. You’ll most likely find her around the Valley with a glass of prosecco in one hand and a graphic novel in the other.She finds the most compelling stories come from KJZZ’s listeners.