More money for schools? There's a prop for that

Neither proposition will raise taxes and state Reps. Sonny Borrelli and Gina Cobb, pictured seated while Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Roger Jacks speaks, said passage of both is critical to the future of K-12 and higher education in Arizona, as well as to the financial health of the state’s public safety personnel retirement system, respectively. Jacks could not endorse or oppose Proposition 123, but he explained the school funding ballot question voters will answer Tuesday. (DOUG McMURDO/Miner)

Neither proposition will raise taxes and state Reps. Sonny Borrelli and Gina Cobb, pictured seated while Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Roger Jacks speaks, said passage of both is critical to the future of K-12 and higher education in Arizona, as well as to the financial health of the state’s public safety personnel retirement system, respectively. Jacks could not endorse or oppose Proposition 123, but he explained the school funding ballot question voters will answer Tuesday. (DOUG McMURDO/Miner)

KINGMAN - A confusing issue that will boost spending for public education without raising taxes will be on the ballot for the statewide special election Tuesday.

Proposition 123 - the Arizona Education Finance Amendment - will increase annual distributions from the state land trust permanent endowment fund from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent to benefit the Arizona K-12 schools, colleges and other beneficiary institutions.

If approved by voters, the measure would increase education funding by $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years by allocating money from the general fund and increasing annual distributions of the state land trust permanent funds to education. About $1.4 billion would come from general fund money and $2 billion would come from increasing annual distributions of the state land trust permanent funds to education.

A "yes" vote shall have the effect of increasing distributions from the State Land Trust Permanent Endowment Fund in fiscal years 2016-2025. It includes protections for state funds in the case of a severe economic downturn.

A "no" vote shall have the effect of retaining the existing 2.5 percent distribution formula from the State Land Trust Permanent Endowment Fund and maintaining current funding levels for Arizona K-12 schools, colleges, and other beneficiary institutions

There are more than two sides to this issue, and numerous factors play into the many colors of this electoral kaleidoscope.

What is the Land Trust?

The Arizona State Land Department currently manages approximately 9.2 million acres of state trust land, which was granted by the federal government at the time of statehood. Certain revenues from state lands, such as the proceeds from the sale of land, are deposited into the "permanent fund." The fund is then invested and the investment returns are distributed to K-12 schools along with other beneficiaries.

What the school administrators say

Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Roger Jacks spoke about Prop 123 at the Mohave County Republican Forum Wednesday.

"A big issue nationwide is a teacher shortage," he said. "Arizona is already in a crisis. Teacher recruiting and retention is one of the most critical aspects of what's going on.

"One thing that would help solve that is if we were able to pay teachers more. I know that's tough to do and I realize that. That's one thing we hope Prop 123 would solve."

Due to his position as superintendent, he couldn't ethically endorse or oppose the measure. He could, however, speculate about what the money could be used for should it pass.

"It would be up to the school board," he said. "We'd ultimately like to reduce class sizes."

His goal would be to use 30-35 percent on salary raises for all KUSD employees - not just teachers. The rest would go to updating the bus fleet, technology and other equipment.

Jacks said if it doesn't pass, KUSD should be OK, but the budget would be flatlined.

Kingman Academy of Learning District Administrator Susan Chan weighed in via email.

She said that if the proposition passed, KAOL could receive approximately $176 per student immediately. The amount would be added to base level support with no strings attached for use. That amount of money would provide the school with breathing room for the unexpected expenses schools may face.

"On our end the obvious pro is additional money immediately," she said. "If this does not pass, the entire matter will have to go back to the players in the (2010) lawsuit for settlement and that could take years."

"I know there are cons to the proposition. However, in my position as a charter school leader, the pros far outweigh the cons in assisting us in providing a high quality education to all students."

Ana Masterson, dean of student services at Mohave Community College, said that Proposition 123 primarily affects K-12 school districts. MCC could be impacted if it passes in that additional funding may enhance partnerships and allow the college to explore new or strengthened offerings and programs.

Red flags raised

Concerns about state legislators overstepping their bounds, where the money goes and who really benefits from the measure feeds the flames of opposition and confusion.

In 2000, Arizona voters approved Proposition 301, which required the state to increase K-12 funding each year to keep up with inflation and said education funding would be protected from the whims of the Legislature by passing a guaranteed inflation adjustment.

Opponents claim the measure robs from a trust set up by the founders of Arizona to provide long-term income for schools. It has worked for more than 100 years, they note.

Opposition

At least two prominent Arizona politicians have spoken out against Prop 123 in a file on the Arizona Secretary of State website.

Former Arizona State Treasurer Carol Springer claims it's actually a property tax increase across Arizona and said that Gov. Doug Ducey said this puts new money into education without raising taxes.

She said that despite the governor's claim, officials have admitted it does raise taxes but tried to disguise it by saying "that's just how school finance works. I don't know about you but I am sick and tired of being lied to by politicians."

In her statement, she asked what happens when the money runs out:

"A tax increase. (There's) no such thing as a free lunch. If the schools need more money and you don't have enough taxes to give them the money, then be honest and raise taxes."

Current Arizona State Treasurer Jeff DeWit also opposes the measure. He says the school trust money is meant to last forever and that the Legislature is not allowed to spend any of the principal. The plan spends principal.

"By dipping into the principal we will not only face potential lawsuits that would tie up the money for years but we also will face a huge financial shortfall in just 10 years that will create yet another gigantic education funding problem."

According to a fact-check report by Arizona Republic reporter Jade Yeban, where the money goes is anyone's guess.

In Proposition 123, the legislation doesn't specify where or how school districts must spend that money. It could go specifically toward classroom spending, toward classroom personnel, salaries and benefits for teachers, classroom supplies such as pens and crayons, instructional aids such as textbooks and activities and tuition.

Non-classroom dollars pay for administrative salaries, plant operations and maintenance, food service, transportation and student and instruction support services.

In other words, the money would be divided among Arizona school districts but would not come with a specific requirement on where or how the money could be spent.

Overall message

Despite the confusion in the room, the overall feeling was that something has to be done now.

A 2010 lawsuit about the state's failure to adjust all components of the K-12 Base Level for inflation (pursuant to ARS. §15-901.01) which was enacted in Proposition 301, has been one strand in the fuse that lit this firecracker of a proposition. There's statewide apprehension that more lawsuits filed as a result of the passing of Prop 123 could cause schools more grief.

Rep. Gina Cobb, R-Kingman, pointed that out at the Republican forum Tuesday night.

"The lawsuit itself is depleting state funds," she said. "We're just lining the lawyer's pockets and not helping our kids."

Voting

State and countywide polls run from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

All polling places that were open during the presidential preference election in March will be open for this election.

Kingman's early voting polling place is the Kathryn Heidenreich Senior Center at 1776 Airway Ave., Suite B. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

Information on propositions and polling places can be found at www.mohavecounty.us.