Arizona’s public schools need help. Even as we agree with the truthfulness of that statement, a solution isn’t obvious. But, we as leaders within rural Arizona’s political and education communities want to help our colleagues focus on the heart of the problem the way we do. Then we can work toward meaningful solutions.
In 2017, Senator Sylvia Allen wrote a much-referenced opinion piece stating additional education funding was only going to happen when voter support for public schools made it possible. Her proposal to take a simply elegant proposal to the voters in 2020 to establish a permanent 1-cent education sales tax, offers just what is needed. Her proposal also simplifies the program to ensure what’s raised to support our schools supports student learning.
When we ask voters to support funding to strengthen public schools – an issue polls show Arizonans care deeply about – we must ensure nobody is hitching their budget to that sentiment. Other proposals in years past and even today try to peel away funds to support additional government programs the Legislature didn’t fund in the regular budget. We have to focus on helping students.
The Arizona Rural Schools Association has consistently worked with leadership in business and government to support additional revenue for schools. The day after Senator Allen published her proposal, a letter to Senate President Karen Fann from ARSA asked her to support Allen. Their letter stated: “The proposal offered by Senator Sylvia Allen meets [the needs of rural schools] squarely, honestly and without ambiguity. Additional funding for public schools to be used to support the education of Arizona’s children based on locally determined priorities addresses the greatest need of our schools.”
Focused funds guided by locally elected school boards to serve the needs of students will make the difference for Arizona’s future.
Education leaders are stewards over children, but elected officials have to carefully manage investments in our future. Arizona spends a bigger piece of the pie on education than any other state, but we work hard to ensure that we keep the pie small. Limiting government is at the heart of our effort to ensure future prosperity. Ensuring a quality education is also essential. Folks who only care about education spending pretend that raising taxes doesn’t affect the economy. A 1-cent education sales tax will not wreck our economy, but a 150 percent increase in taxes on those we rely on for investment in economic growth would do damage. This proposal does not disproportionately tax anybody. Taking smart (but small) steps forward is our best strategy for ensuring we are meeting the needs of our rural schools without jeopardizing our future.
We wholeheartedly encourage other leaders from across the state in both government and education to support judicious, simple, transparent funding for public education by giving the voters of Arizona the opportunity to answer the question, “Are we or are we not in favor of a 1-cent education sales tax to fund better public schools in Arizona?”
John Warren, superintendent, Topock Elementary School District; Melissa Sadorf, superintendent, Stanfield Elementary School District; Robert Devere, superintendent, Tombstone Unified School District; Sean E. Rickert, superintendent, Pima Unified School District; Christopher Knutsen, superintendent, Florence Unified School District; Mike Wright, superintendent, Blue Ridge Unified School District; and Hollis Merrell, superintendent, Snowflake Unified School District.