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Education Leaders Launch Second Attempt To Get Invest In Ed On Arizona Ballot

Arizona education leaders launched their latest effort Monday to get more money to teachers and classrooms. They hope voters will approve a tax on the state’s wealthiest residents.

Outside the state Capitol, fourth-grade teacher Molly Pont-Brown held a sign that read: “1,800 Arizona classrooms have no qualified teachers.”

“And that is the case,” she said. “There are 1,800 classrooms in Arizona today that have long-term substitutes or just a revolving door of substitutes. My own children who are 17 and 13 and attend public schools have seen the same thing happen in their own classrooms, and it’s really hard to get a good education when that happens to you as a student.”

Pont-Brown grabbed a handful of signs surrounding the kick-off rally along with a petition for the Invest in Education initiative. The group needs to collect 237,654 signatures by July 2, 2020. Supporters estimate it could raise $940 million annually.

Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association, a co-sponsor of the initiative with Stand for Children, said about half the money raised would go to reduce class sizes and increase salaries for certified teachers with 25% going to salaries for other employees who support students and educators like school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors.

“We’re going to put in a little bit of scholarship money so our educators that come out aren’t as saddled with debt as I am when I started teaching and we’re going to make sure we have a mentoring system in there to keep educators,” he said. “We can get them into our classrooms but the problem is we’re having trouble keeping them in classrooms in this state.”

He said some money would also go to specialty programs like career and technical education, gifted and advanced placement.

In 2018, the state Supreme Court knocked the initiative off the ballot. The court ruled the petitions did not correctly explain the proposal's impact on taxes. This time, backers say the language is clear: it calls for a surcharge of 3.5% for individuals making more than $250,000 annually and married tax filers making more than $500,000. 

In 2018, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce opposed the "Invest in Education Act" saying it would have negative repercussions on small businesses that pay taxes through the individual income tax. 

In April 2018, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a plan to increase teacher salaries by 20%. From April 26 to May 3, 2018, schools across the state closed as educators took part in the #RedForEd walkout. On May 3, 2018, Ducey signed a bill designed to increase teacher salaries.

“The main goals of #RedForEd have not yet been achieved,” said Pont-Brown, who teaches at Hopi Elementary in the Scottsdale Unified School District. “Yes, we’ve had some salary increases for teachers, and we’re very grateful for that. However, it’s not enough to staunch the bleeding that’s going on in our classrooms. We can’t get new people to go into teaching, and we can’t get new people to stay.” 

Here’s how the Invest in Ed overview reads based on the application filed with the Secretary of State’s Office:

"The Invest in Education Act provides additional funding for public education by establishing a 3.5% surcharge on taxable income above $250,000 annually for single persons or married persons filing separately, and on taxable income above $500,000 annually for married persons filing jointly or head of household filers; dedicates additional revenue to (a) hire and increase salaries for teachers, classroom support personnel and student support services personnel, (b) mentoring and retention programs for new classroom teachers, (c) career training and post-secondary preparation programs, (d) Arizona Teachers Academy; amends the Arizona Teachers Academy statute; requires annual accounting of additional revenue."

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.