Here’s the most important thing you need to know about Proposition 204: It will give our children increased opportunities for success in their educations and their lives. That translates to a brighter future for our children and for Arizona.
Here’s the most important thing you can do to guarantee those increased opportunities: Vote yes on Prop. 204.
Proposition 204 will renew the one cent sales tax we voted for three years ago. It’s not a new tax; it’s a renewed tax, so you won’t pay a penny more than today. But unlike the tax it’s replacing, it will guarantee more funds for our children’s educations. The previous tax just went into the general fund, which allowed the legislature to divert the money and cut funding for education. This time, the proposition mandates that the legislature spend at least as much on education as it did during 2011 or 2012, and the sales tax revenues will be added on top of that.
Those are the basic facts. Now for a little Q&A.
Question: Isn’t Arizona spending enough on education right now?
Answer: Arizona spends less per student than any other state in the nation. To our shame, during the past five years, we’ve slipped even further behind. Since 2008, we actually cut 21.8 percent from the amount we spend per student - more than any other state. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth. Even though we were already at the bottom, that didn’t stop the legislature from cutting more from education than anyone else.
Question: Will the one-cent sales tax generate enough funds to raise us from the bottom in per student spending?
Answer: No it won’t. Even with the new funds, we’ll still spend less per student than any other state. But the good news is the legislature won’t be able to cut any deeper and we will add desperately needed funds for our children’s education.
Question: If we spend more, will our children get a better education?
Answer: If the money is spent to reduce class sizes, replace outdated textbooks, update technology and give individual help to students who need it most, the answer is yes, our children will get better educations. While money doesn’t guarantee a quality education, too little money guarantees our students will be cheated out of the education they deserve.
On national tests, Arizona children score lower than similar children in other states. That’s true whether you compare children from high or low income families, children whose parents have college degrees or children whose parents didn’t complete high school. It’s true whether you compare Anglos, Hispanics or Native Americans. Is lack of funding the reason our children have lower educational attainment than similar children elsewhere? I can’t say for certain. But I know Arizona’s kids are every bit as capable as kids in other states, and our teachers work as hard for their students as teachers work everywhere. But with too many students in each class and too little in the way of teaching supplies and support staff, Arizona’s children are receiving a lower quality education than other children.
The one place I agree with some critics of the initiative is I don’t like sales taxes. They put too much of the burden on lower income families. Unfortunately, in our current anti-tax environment, there’s no way the legislature will pass a progressive income tax to pay for education, so this is the best we can do. Just keep in mind, it’s not a new tax, so no one will pay more when Prop. 204 passes. And a one cent tax only costs a family making $30,000 to $40,000 a year between $6 and $8 a month. That number goes down when a family’s income is lower. When you balance that relatively small burden against the opportunity for every child in Arizona to have an increased chance to end up better off than their parents, for me, there’s no contest.
(Editor’s Note: Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.)