On January 3, the Arizona Capitol Times reported that Arizona Republicans are considering a maneuver to undermine the will of the voters — again. According to the article, Republicans want to repeal and replace the “huge Arizona tax cuts” that are currently halted due to a citizen’s referendum of last year’s budget bill – now heading to the November ballot as Proposition 307. Arizona voters demanded the opportunity to weigh in on the bill and they are poised to give it a thumbs down.
It’s clear these politicians don’t want to hear what Arizonans have to say. They remain hell-bent on favoring tax cuts that dramatically favor the most wealthy, while our schools and needed public services remain woefully underfunded.
Our volunteers – parents, teachers, and everyday citizens – spent countless hours in the summer heat collecting hundreds of thousands of citizens’ signatures, and repeatedly heard from voters of all political stripes that enough was enough. Voters are tired of the legislative majority ignoring Arizonans’ consistent and repeated demands for more state revenue to properly fund education. They see firsthand in their schools the impact of having the worst teacher pay in the nation, the most crowded class size in the nation, and a school counselor to student ratio of 848 to 1, compared to the national average of 424 to 1. The recommended ratio is 250 to 1.
If any “repeal and replace” were to happen it would be carried out by 47 Republican legislators and the governor turning their backs on the 1.7 million Arizonans who voted yes to fund education. That makes no sense in a new election year.
Recent polling data from December shows that these legislators are vulnerable despite redistricting. A full 55% of voters say that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for state office who worked to “repeal and replace” SB 1828 and nullify Prop. 307. Over 60% of voters are convinced that “repeal and replace” shouldn’t happen because the Legislature shouldn’t use dishonest gimmicks to push through their tax cut for the wealthy. And they believe legislators must be held accountable in next November’s election for undermining the will of the voters. Meanwhile, 71% of Arizona voters still insist on additional funds for public schools, with 48% saying that there is a “great need.”
The Proposition 208 Invest in Education election victory in November 2020 shows that our coalition knows how to turn polling into reality.
If legislators are smart, and if they truly believe the budget can be improved from last year, then they should consider taking direct actions to aid state schools’ efforts to operate efficiently and effectively.
First, they should use the projected budget surplus to honor the will of the voters – fully fund K-12 education, including teacher pay and other teacher recruitment and retention measures, more school counselors, classified staff pay (bus drivers, instructional aides, etc.), and strengthening Career and Technical Education.
Second, they should propose permanent solutions to the outdated caps on education spending. Lawmakers know that Arizona’s schools need at least a short-term fix by March or else schools are going to have to slash their budgets, which will irreparably hurt Arizona’s children. Adding insult to injury, every time the Legislature slashes state revenue it shrinks the pie, so to speak, and further strains school funding under the current expenditure limit.
We don’t think that makes any sense, and voters agree with us. More than two-thirds of voters believe the state spending cap for education needs to be addressed. This includes 76% of rural voters and 52% of Republican voters.
It’s a no brainer: Fix the cap. Fund education. Because Arizonans are extremely frustrated with politicians and are ready to take it to the ballot box – again.
Rebecca Gau is executive director of Stand for Children Arizona. Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, David Lujan, president and CEO Children’s Action Alliance and Beth Lewis, founder Save Our Schools Arizona contributed to this commentary.n