Soon, Arizonans will have the chance to put badly needed funding into Arizona’s public K-12 school system and avoid additional taxes. Proposition 123, which will be decided by voters on May 17, settles a five-year education funding lawsuit filed against the state that threatens the entire state budget. It also can set Arizona on a new path that prioritizes our commitment to public education by giving districts the means to reward teachers who bring out the best in our children.
Opponents of this measure are resorting to desperate tactics. Prop. 123’s common sense alternative to taxes is a greater use of state land trust system. This asset has a combined worth of $75 billion, a majority of which resides in the value of our state’s millions of acres of unsold trust land. An investment portfolio with a current value of $5 billion is at the ready to help our schools, teachers, and students.
Prop. 123 seeks to withdraw roughly $200 million a year from this $75 billion asset that is continually growing through the sales of state trust lands and its invested returns. Our state trust lands, and the trust itself, exist for the very purpose of supporting public education. Still, some decry Prop. 123 as a “raid” of the trust and a crime against future generations of students. In reality, this “raid” amounts to spending $2 a year from a bank account with a $750 balance that will continue to grow.
The attacks against Prop. 123 unfortunately do not end with scare tactics over the financial health of a trust system that, to date, has only sold about 10 percent of the almost 11 million acres of land granted to Arizona more than 100 years ago by the federal government. While our children’s teachers must determine each year whether or not they can afford to continue teaching, Prop. 123 opponents are conjuring stories that Congress will punish Arizona if it exercises its right to spend its education money on education.
This fable stems from the claim that Arizona must beg the permission of Congress to amend the federal law that granted Arizona state trust lands when it entered the Union in the early 1900s. It ignores the fact that in 1999, the Arizona congressional delegation, including myself, amended this law to give Arizona the common sense authority to manage and invest state land trust assets to maximize the rewards for its primary, legal beneficiary: Our public K-12 schools.
As the father of a teacher, I know the commitment and sacrifice made by our public school educators. Starting salaries for teachers in Arizona are in the bottom 20 percent nationwide. As a result, our state continues to lose teachers at an alarming pace and it’s our students who pay the price. This state of emergency exists in rural and urban districts alike, including East Valley schools in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe, which will get the necessary funds to stabilize and improve their schools this fiscal year if Prop. 123 is passed by voters.
Prop. 123 is supported by a broad coalition of members of the education community, the business community, Republican and Democrat officeholders, and parents and teachers. Together, we can make a sustained and responsible investment in public education that benefits our teachers, students, and economy or we can continue along the path of uncertainty and instability for our public schools.
Join me in voting “Yes” on Prop. 123.
— Matt Salmon represents Arizona’s 5th Congressional District.