Home / Opinion / Commentary / Prop 123 – It’s not sustainable and it’s not a solution

Prop 123 – It’s not sustainable and it’s not a solution


While many good-hearted people have encouraged supporting Prop. 123 because they claim it is a good start and injects badly needed money immediately into the classroom, unfortunately, they are wrong. First, there will be a lawsuit regarding whether or not the enabling act requires Congressional approval to implement the Proposition. During the lawsuit, which could take several years, no monies will be sent to classrooms.

Even if the Legislature paid everything ordered and agreed to, it will not change Arizona’s ranking on education. It will not fix the education problem in Arizona, and it will not provide sustainable funding for our schools. For 20 years our pupil-teacher ratio has steadily worsened and is now 40% greater than the national average. In 1992, Arizona funded our students at 80% of the national average for state-sourced funding; today it is 55%, the worse in the country. Our state-sourced funding per teacher has dropped from 70% to 40% of the national average.


Dianne Post

A separate piece of legislation that would go into effect if Prop. 123 passes would increase the base level funding from $3,426.74 to $3,600.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average is $12,401 per public school student enrolled in the fall. Arizona’s base level is at a third of the national average and remains in the bottom. The minimal funding of Prop 123 is not a solution.

Yet on Feb. 22 the Senate passed SB1279, (HB 2482) empowerment scholarships. As Senator Farley said in debate, “This is the end of public education in Arizona.” From 2000-2012, private school tuition credits claimed increased 287%. During the same time, state appropriations per public school student decreased 10%. Given these serious structural problems of long standing and the Legislature’s track record of underfunding education, it is clear that the Legislature’s idea of solving the problem of funding public schools is to eliminate public schools.

The language of the proposition makes it clear that the Legislature will not pay even the amount outlined in the proposition. The proposition has many “triggers” that allow the Legislature to reduce or even stop the distributions from the land trust. If the trust fund is negatively impacted (by a complicated comparison with prior years) they can go back to 2.5%; if sales tax and employment rate are less than 2% growth, they can suspend payments; if the percentage of education funding in the general fund is at 49% or more, they can suspend payments and lower base levels. The proposition specifically says that the lost money does not have to be repaid in any subsequent year or distributed from any other public monies. No provision in the Constitution requires that the Legislature give money to for-profit prisons, dole out welfare to large corporations, or give tax breaks to the richest citizens. In fact, there are provisions saying they shouldn’t. The Arizona Constitution Article XI (10) does say that the Legislature has a duty to tax in order to fund constitutionally mandated education.

Yet the proposition includes in it a permanent change to the Constitution to reduce voters’ power. The Voter Protection Act says a referendum passed by the voters cannot be repealed and can only be amended if the amendment furthers the purpose of the law and has 75% of the legislators’ approval.  The intent of the Legislature is nakedly visible with four bills introduced this session: HCR2023, HCR2024, HCR2043, HCR2047. These bills would make it easier to repeal voters’ intent and put several hurdles in the way of passing a voter initiative.  By refusing to fund the mandatory 2% inflation increase (which was a voter passed initiative) and not funding the base level, the Legislature re-directed (stole) the money specifically earmarked for education by the voters and used it for tax breaks to corporations. They got caught and sued. Now they want to make sure that doesn’t happen again by changing the Constitution to reduce voter power.

It’s hard to say no to our struggling schools but in reality they won’t get money immediately anyhow. The money they eventually will get is minuscule compared to what is needed to bring Arizona up to par. The legislature has clearly signaled they have no intention of coming up with a plan for permanent, sustainable and sufficient funding for public schools and they want to decrease voter power to make sure we can’t force them.  Vote no on Prop. 123 and let’s elect legislators who truly care about Arizona’s kids and Arizona’s future.

— Dianne Post is a Phoenix attorney.


  1. While Ms Post is undoubtably correct in her assessment, there is no alternative. If the citizens go back to the courts it too will be a long and expensive ordeal with no clear outcome. The Gov already has appointed Clint Bolick a Goldwater Institute lackey to the State Supreme Court and wants to increase the bench by three, you know what kind of folks he will appoint all this means is that our schools will lose in court. All I see is a lose – lose situation. I say take the money and run.

  2. I’m responding to “Exctyenger”. You won’t be able to “take the money and run” if Prop 123 passes because there will be litigation over whether Prop 123 violates the Enabling Act. Prop 123 is no quick fix; it simply creates more long term problems. Vote no on Prop 123.

  3. Of course Prop. 123 is a rotten deal. However, I will vote yes on Prop. 123 only because I think to myself If Prop. 123 is defeated, those who are anti-public education will say that Ducey and the legislature wanted to help public education, but the people of Arizona clearly do not want more money going to public education. Of course a win for Prop.123 does not necessarily mean more money will be forthcoming. Because Prop. 123 does not specifically modify or repeal the Voter Protection Act, that act remains in force. Since Prop. 123 allows the legislature to reduce the benefits of Prop. 301, a conflict would exist with the Voter Protection Act. If challenged, Prop. 123 would likely be ruled to be unconstitutional. A passed but legally negated Prop. 123 would put the legislature in an awkward position. A failure to quickly find a more acceptable solution for funding public education might influence the November election in a way favorable to change in legislative membership, the only significant long term hope for public education.

  4. Mr. Clymer is indeed correct. Furthermore, Justice Bolick does not have any more power in his ruling than the other 4 Justices that are still on the bench – these same 4 Justices who already decided the vital question in the Cave Creek case affirming the Legislature violated Prop 301 and the Voter Protection Act. You are right, Exctyenger, that legislation is moving to bump the number of seats in the State Supreme Court, but you are wrong on two counts: first, it is by two seats, not three; and, second, you are quite wrong to believe every appointee Gov. Ducey appoints is some puppet he controls. 4 of the 5 Justices who unanimously decided in favor of the schools in the Cave Creek case were appointees of Republican governors (3 = Gov. Brewer, 1 = Gov. Dee Hull). Many of the soon-to-be Ducey appointees could easily join in the side of the majority should Prop 123 fail and the case continue. Even if they do not – we still have 4 justices who previously decided in favor of the schools over the most vital question at the heart of Cave Creek v. Ducey, making a final decision in the case a 4 to 3 ruling in favor of the schools in a worst-case scenario. Vote “No” on Prop 123.

  5. First let me start by saying im neither for or agains this this proposition.This article gives off half truths with lots of emotion. If you pay attention closely, the 4th paragraph saya ” on feb 22nd the Senate passed SB1279″… well althought the Senate passed it, the bill did not make due to public pressure. The center paragraphs go onto state constitution away from the topic and have no relevance.
    Lastly, the last paragraph is purely opinons without facts. its no wonder Diane post was denied CASA appointment because of her unfounded opinionated bursts.
    How about publishing the facts of 123, read the proposition. I havent heard about how this increases the payout from 2.5% to 6.9 % for 10 years, I have’nt heard about how the money will be distributed to school districts and their boards would decide what to do with their allocated funds….so how about some facts and less opinions….

  6. Vote yes. Vote no. It really does not seem to matter. I agree with Farley–public education is dead in this state. This is a tragedy beyond belief. Arizona is in need of so many of the proven building blocks of a strong economy and a vibrant society, education is one of those fundamentals. The Republican Party in this state despises anyone who is poor–even the working poor–witness the crusade against Kidscare. It seems also to think that a strong system of public education is of no importance. This state and its children will rue this proposition and the many elections in which voters refused to vote anything but Republican, no matter how negligent that party is toward citizens who are not sports billionaires or those elderly in their smug little enclaves who do not even pay school taxes in most cases.

  7. Mary, Public Education is far from dead in Arizona in spite of the best efforts of ALEC/Koch Brothers funded politicians. It is severely wounded, however and on a sort of life support. What is needed are bright, articulate citizens like yourself (and myself) to be on constant guard against further assaults. Make no mistake, ALEC has on its agenda privatizing our education system. Many of our legislators including Biggsie, Lil Debbie Lesko and others are members and support the agenda. So stay alert and call them out.

  8. Hi Mike:

    “calling them out”makes no difference whatsoever. I have never seen more ignorant people than this bunch–and I have lived many places.

  9. All of this and yet there are public schools that do extremely well and those that don’t. The classroom size in elementary schools is great. Could the difference lie in the demographics and not the funding?


  10. Mark, you are correct some of our public schools do well, others don’t. The causal factors are complex. Demographics as you point out, quality of teachers, funding even culture to some extent. We can’t change the demographics nor the culture. We can improve funding and that should improve teacher quality, classroom size, school resources, soft capital and so forth. BUT………increasing funding is not on the ALEC agenda, in fact the opposite their stated objective is to de-fund our schools in favor of more tax breaks and private schools.

  11. When you have an antagonistic group of individuals that rail against the people in power that keep getting reelected despite the railing, what exactly is expected? The unions, and their associated supporters, only support one political party, regardless of how pro-education opposing candidates are. Former teachers, former school board members, or even current teachers running for office that are not with the unions’ sole political party routinely do not get union support due to the union being a money generating arm of one party. That party cannot deliver anything to the unions, but the support keeps rolling in. Why would anyone not in that one political party want to work with the unions on any aspect of giving more money to the unions’ members when that just means funding a higher level of opposition against themselves?

  12. Public school teacher

    Thank you for your comments Steve and Mark. 100% of my fellow teachers are returning to teach next year in hope that prop 123 will pass. This will save thousands of dollars in new teacher training. These are title 1 federal dollars that must be spent in the classroom, mostly spent on teacher training, but now can be spent on programs and materials. I have been in the classroom in AZ for 32 years. Do not vote no because in might go to the courts, vote yes and make a statement in support of public education.

  13. Gwen Reid: What do unions have to do with this issue? There is no teachers union to speak of AEA has no power. Our teachers can’t strike, there is no collective bargaining. The tragic fact is that our legislative leadership has been taken over and corrupted by Dark Money (read ALEC and the Koch Brothers) and as long as WE keep voting them into power our schools our public infrastructure, our parks, our environmental quality will be beholding to the anti-tax, big business interests. Our economy will continue down its slide like Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin and other Koch/ALEC controlled states.

  14. Public School Teacher: you must teach in a small school. The staff in my EV district are split over this. Many feel Ducey and others are lying about there being a second or third step. I would be amazed if the state budget didn’t call for a reduction in funds, as PROP 123 requires, because of the 50% clause in the next 2 years. Anyone voting for this is being duped. Why can’t our elected leaders simply enforce the laws we have?

  15. Thank you for this great article. Last week, I was in the middle of a spirited conversation with two local politicians. One was firmly for the legislation, the other against. I saw both sides and carefully considered their expert opinions. As a financial planner, the one thing that bothered me was the numbers behind Prop 123. Over the weekend, I started my own research and ran the numbers myself. This article, as well as several others, became the basis of my research. The mathematics behind Prop 123 don’t add up. Based on the state’s rate of return projections as well as the distributions coming out of the Permanent Fund, the 10 year average return would be a -.54%. This means that the additional lands would need to be sold off to maintain the corpus in the account. Please feel free to check my numbers here and shoot me feedback, thx. http://www.phxplan.com/blog/legistation/proposition-123-negative-impact-on-our-future/

  16. In our district there are two columns printed on our contracts, a column that says what we will get if PROP123 does not pass and one that tells us what our increased pay will be if it does. This seems awful sketchy and almost like a bribe.
    If you don’t vote for 123 you will not get as much pay. Is it even legal to do this?

  17. Is it legal? Surely you jest. Arizona runs on short term thinking and bribery.

  18. There is an alternative to Proposition 123. Vote no. Mount an effort state wide to secure public education in the general fund and insist that the legislature comply with the directives of Arizona citizens. Organize and vote against these people in November. Fight them in the courts and if necessary start a new Constitutional initiative. We need to take charge of our representative government. If Prop 123 wins we will have a very difficult time stopping the legislature from further eroding public schools in Arizona. Vote No to secure public education in Arizona.

  19. Vote no IS the solution. Education is not something funded from “if we have any left over” money—it needs to be a commitment of both parties and all citizens.

  20. Mary, I sure do understand your position and I concur. We have allowed our State’s leadership to become loaded with ALEC members pushing the Koch agenda. This has resulted in our poor and inadequate public school funding and more irresponsible, unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy. All that said, our schools have been starved for so long (22% since 2008 the most of any State) that we need to do something now. I am holding my nose and voting YES and then working to change the composition of the Legislature.
    Thanks for your comment, I for one, respect your opinion (for whatever that may be worth)

  21. Prolonging the actual long term solution and forcing the legislature to actually face up to it—requires a no vote. They are dangling a few dollars and the promise of a piddling raise for teachers to forestall the inevitable—kicking the can down the road.

  22. Vote for 1-2-3. Also, you all have it wrong. Money does not fix education. High standards fix education. I went to one of the best public schools in the country – in a very wealthy suburb of Boston. We had all the money and resources one could want. But the new text books the school bought were not used. Instead, our math teacher made us use beat up, old math books from the 1970s. Why? Because the newer texts books she though were too easy.

    More money does not mean better education.

  23. Money does not fix education—yes yes—the old saw repeated. Well I have news: money lavished on sports team owners, large companies, and favored business friends of legislators DOES NOT “create jobs” or economic activity either. See how that works both ways?

  24. This is again the Goldwater Institutes NeoCon/NeoFascism politics. Gov. Ice Cream did a presentation at the Koch Boys retreat and got their blessing and money. AZ is not the state it was when the actual Sen. Goldwater was alive, nor even under Gov. Napolitano who was the last govern of any talent. It is time to contact your/our state legistators and make it clear they are not performing, retirees from other states, WWIIers who do not care about others’s children’s edu, nor their own grandchild keep electing Arpio and these goof in the state legislator.

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