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The Case For And Against Arizona Proposition 208, The Invest in Education Act

Election Day is just 20 days away, believe it or not. That's 20 days to choose your preferred candidates for president, the state Legislature and a litany of other offices. Twenty days to choose whether to retain a lot of judges, and 20 days to decide on two citizen initiatives that qualified for this year's ballot. 

The Show is bringing you elevator pitches of sorts from the supporters and the opponents of these proposals, starting with Proposition 208, or the Invest in Education Act.

In Favor Of Proposition 208

LAUREN GILGER: This initiative is asking voters to increase public school funding through a tax increase on the wealthiest Arizonans. David Lujan coauthored Prop. 208. Here's his pitch.

DAVID LUJAN: Over the past decade, no state has cut more funding from its public schools than Arizona. Our schools are feeling the ramifications of all these funding cuts in the form of one of the worst teacher shortage crises in the country. New data was recently released showing that the teacher shortage is getting worse, and we have some of the largest class sizes in the nation. Prop. 208 will address these issues by raising an estimated $940 million in new revenue each year. Revenue which will be voter-protected and funding, which comes with strict accountability, that can only be used for specific purposes, which include increasing teacher salaries, reducing class sizes, and more than doubling state funding for career and technical education. The measure assesses a small income tax surcharge on only the wealthiest 1% of Arizona taxpayers. The remaining 99% of Arizona taxpayers will not pay up anymore. The opponents of Prop. 208 are trying to scare Arizonans with 'The sky is falling,' doomsday scenarios that simply are not true. The fact is, the coalition behind Prop. 208 announced our intentions in 2018 to bring this measure to the ballot in 2020 if the legislature and others did not come forward with a better plan. So our opponents had two years and many years before that to come up with a better plan to fund our schools. But they failed to do so. The truth is, our opponents have no interest in fixing the funding crisis in our schools, and they would be opposing any proposal to raise taxes to invest in our schools. The fact is, many small business owners across Arizona are enthusiastically supporting Prop. 208 because they, like most business owners, make nowhere near the personal annual income to be taxed by Prop. 208. And they know that the millions of new dollars which will be invested into our public schools are an investment in our future workforce. By passing Prop. 208, we can give schools the resources they need to end our teacher shortage crisis and put a certified, qualified teacher in every classroom. We can reduce class sizes. We can more than double state funding for career and technical education programs, which provide students with the skills to fill high demand, high paying jobs. We can make our schools healthier and safer by hiring more school nurses and school counselors. We can give Arizona students the resources needed to get a quality education. Prop. 208 is good for Arizona and good for our economy.

GILGER: David Lujan is the director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress. One of the groups that has supported the initiative he co-wrote.

Against Proposition 208

MARK BRODIE: Now let's hear from someone who hasn't been convinced this proposal is the fix Arizonans may be looking for. Matt Beienburg is the director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute.

MATT BEIENBURG: We've all heard many times that Arizona's education system is inadequate — that our teachers are underpaid and our students are underserved. And we've heard that we can solve all this if we spent more money on public education, the way Prop. 208 would do. But there's a problem with this narrative, and even bigger problems with both the dose and type of medicine Arizonans are being asked to swallow under this proposal. For example, it was true that Arizona's teacher pay was among the lowest in the nation years ago, after the Great Recession hit. However, that's no longer the case. Arizonans just gave a billion dollars a year for a 20% teacher pay raise and other funding increases. Yet just a few months ago, the teachers' union backers of Prop. 208 shrugged off this huge investment that Arizonans just made, calling it, quote, "nothing" while continuing to tell us we're near last place. Now, it's hard to square with the idea that we should put another billion dollars into the system if they're going to tell us the last billion made such little difference. But unfortunately, this isn't some one-off example. Proponents tell us endlessly that the U.S. and Arizona have cut K-12 funding year after year, even as they quietly tiptoe around the fact that K-12 funding in America and Arizona has dramatically increased over the last several decades. Across the U.S., we now spend nearly three times the amount per student than we did in 1970, even adjusted for inflation — while our academic outcomes and the achievement gap facing marginalized students in district schools have hardly budged. So what's the point? What we've heard about K-12 funding and the rationale for Prop. 208 from proponents' talking points isn't all it's cracked up to be. More funding certainly can be helpful in certain cases, but it's time Arizonans started demanding reform, not just bigger paychecks for school district staff. But Prop. 208 includes not a single metric on student achievement, nor a single reform to rein in existing waste and administrative bloat. And on top of that, only 13 cents of every dollar from Prop. 208's tax increase will go to actual classroom teachers. Worse, Prop. 208 does all of this while hurting Arizonans who are trying to get back to work in the wake of COVID-19. If it passes, Prop. 208 would nearly double Arizona's top tax rate, putting us among the top 10 highest taxing states in the nation and sending job creators and successful small business owners elsewhere. In fact, half of those directly impacted by Prop. 208's tax rates would be small business owners. And the most charitable economic projections estimate that by targeting job creating small businesses so acutely, Prop. 208 will end up costing Arizona more than 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years alone. At the same time, it will cost $2.4 billion in lost tax revenue for non-K-12 government functions, things like Child Protective Services and the university system. In short, Prop. 208 will inflict extraordinary economic damage and swell school district payrolls while promising not an ounce of academic improvement to students. This is not a trade Arizonans should be eager to make.

BRODIE: That was Matt Beienburg with the Goldwater Institute and Goldwater's Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy. We'll also hear the cases for and against Proposition 207. That's the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Tune into KJZZ or look out for those commentaries online at KJZZ.org.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.