INVEST IN EDUCATION ACT: An Initiative for 2020

INVEST IN EDUCATION ACT: An Initiative for 2020

After more than three years work, teachers and their supporters, parents and their children have succeeded in getting the initiative on the ballot for November when the Supreme Court so ruled on August 19.  Since we support secular public education, we have taken a deeper look at the provisions.  As stated in Section 2, the purpose of the act is that Arizona students deserve qualified teachers and safe environments.  Yet years of underfunding by the state legislature has led to the crisis we find ourselves in – being at the bottom of the barrel in school funding with an increasing teacher gap.   For Arizona to advancewe need educated students, including in the skilled trades, and careers looking toward the future.

The money in the fund does not revert to the state general fund to be frittered away in tax giveaways. The monies are to be spent in this order:  the cost to the state treasurer to administer, the state auditor general, the department of education, the department of revenue, and the state board of education to implement, and any other mandatory expenditures.  There are no “unfunded mandates.”

The state treasurer makes up the forms and transfers the money twice annually.  Fifty percent goes to school districts and charter schools in proportion to the weighted student count for the prior fiscal year.  That includes the school for the blind and deaf.

Twenty-five percent goes to school districts and charter schools in proportion to the weighted student count to hire student support services personnel and increase their base compensation.

Ten percent goes to school districts and charter schools in proportion to the weighted student count to provide mentoring and retention programs for new teachers.  The State Board of Education creates the rules.  A mentor may have no more than 15 new classroom teachers.

Twelve percent goes to the career training and workforce fund and 3% to the AZ teacher’s academy fund.

Classroom support personnel means nonadministrative such as librarians, nurses, counselors, social workers, speech pathologists, behavior coaches and psychologists.  A new classroom teacher is in the first, second, or third year of teaching.

Student support services means non-administrative personnel who provide services such as classroom aides, media specialists, health assistants, security personnel, student food service personnel, clerical staff, student transportation personnel, and site plant operators.

The career training and workforce program works with student in 9-12th grade.  The Department of Education shall create rules for the program related to medium to high wage, high demand careers that result in direct work experience, industry certification, or postsecondary credits.  It is also aimed to encourage them to become teachers.  The money can be used to hire counselors and develop accelerated program and college level and dual-credit courses.  Districts can establish summer bridge programs for at-risk, incoming ninth graders, implement evidence-based programs to combat absenteeism, and provide tutoring.

Each district that receives money has to establish a method of separate accounting.  These funds cannot be the reason to reduce any other funds or be considered local funds that would reduce the district’s ability to obtain other monies.

Those enrolled in the AZ teacher’s academy, graduate or community college classes can get the actual cost of tuition and fees for two academic years covered plus the cost of the national certification. Funding is provided now but at lower levels. A marketing and promotion plan shall put emphasis on the diversity of the state’s population.

The funding provisions that have caused so much angst among the wealthy is the surcharge of 3.5% of taxable income in excess of $250,000 for a single person or over $500,000 for married couples or single head of households.

First, it has to be taxable income.  Most wealthy people don’t get their money from taxable income but from investment income or inheritance income so it still doesn’t touch the idle rich.  A 3.5% tax on $250,000 for a single person with no children is $8,750.  They make more than that in two weeks.  For married couples or people with children, a 3.5% tax on $500,000 is $17,500.  They also make more than that in two weeks.

The average American makes $50,000 in a year or $926 a week.  That average American would need to work 10 weeks to make $8,750 that the single person makes in two or 19 weeks or nearly 5 months to make what the couple makes in two weeks.  The U.S. has one of the highest income and wealth gaps in the world and now dwarfs the inequality of the Gilded Age that led to the Great Depression.

Anticipating that the legislature would rush to eliminate the tax by changing or eliminating the tax brackets, they put in a fail-safe that the monies must be collected regardless.  It also has a severability clause, an exemption from rule making clause, and a “standing” clause that if the attorney general refuses to defend the law, any citizen can and fees shall be awarded to said resident.

It is unfortunate that the citizens of this state have to go to such great lengths to fund their public schools – a responsibility that is mandated in the State Constitution to the government.  Public schools are the great leveler – giving us all the same opportunity by teaching every one the country the same set of facts, principles, scientific method, and most importantly – civics and history – how our government works and has worked, and that every person must step up and do our duty from voting to paying taxes, from jury duty to following the law – including wearing a mask to protect my fellow citizens from a pandemic.

Unfortunately our state legislature has shown for the last thirty years that they have no interest in good education or equal opportunity.   They have not fulfilled their responsibility to fund public education from pre-school through university.  They have only given tax cut after tax cut to the wealthy and large corporations that need it least.  That has not created a robust economy that benefits us all but one that only benefits those already in the upper reaches.

So as good citizens, people who care about education, who care about children, who care about the future – we must take the reins and insist that those who bring us the future deserve a good here and now.