Early voting for Proposition 123, an education funding plan that would put about $3.5 billion into Arizona’s schools, starts April 20.
The last day to register to vote in the May 17 special election is Monday.
Here’s a primer on the proposal:
If approved, Proposition 123 would settle a lawsuit filed in 2010 by several school districts and education groups over the state’s failure to adjust base level funding for inflation according to a 2000 voter-approved mandate.
The Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court found that the state did not make inflation adjustments in 2010, 2011 and 2012, according to court documents. The plaintiffs argue that the state also did not make adjustments in 2009 and that it made only a partial adjustment in 2013.
A Maricopa County Superior Court Judge ordered the state in July 2014 to immediately pay more than $300 million to the state’s schools, but rather than pay up, the state filed an appeal. The judge also ordered a hearing to determine the amount of money owed to schools in retroactive funds. That amount has not been determined.
The plaintiffs and the state went back to the negotiating table and agreed on a set of terms that would become Prop. 123.
What it does
Prop. 123 would disburse more than $3 billion to Arizona’s schools over the next 10 years.
A “yes” vote would allow the state to increase the state land trust’s distribution rate to K-12 education from 2.5 to 6.9 percent for 10 years. That would mean the base level per-pupil funding would increase to $3,600 from $3,426.74.
The plan also would pull from the general fund, giving schools $50 million annually for the first five years and $75 million annually for five years after that to support schools’ maintenance and operations.
The measure comes with protection mechanisms in cases of economic downturn, which would suspend inflation adjustments.
Those triggers are:
1) If growth in the state’s sales tax and employment are less than 2 percent;
2) If the allocation for K-12 education is at or exceeds 49 percent of the general fund; and
3) The increased distribution from the state land trust puts the trust at a lower level than the previous year.
For Tucson-area districts, the proposition’s passage means an immediate gain of nearly $26 million. Superintendents previously told the Star that if approved, the money would most likely be used to boost teacher pay.
This settlement makes up for about 70 percent of the lost base level funding increase and half of the $1.3 billion schools say they are owed in back pay, according to a fiscal analysis by the Grand Canyon Institute.
Prop. 123 isn’t meant to cure all of Arizona education’s funding ills, said Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, which is one of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit and now endorses the measure.
“We have critical funding needs in our schools across the state, and while Prop. 123 doesn’t settle all those, it does settle this lawsuit,” he said in a previous interview.
Who supports it
- Gov. Doug Ducey: “Proposition 123 not only provides new money to our classrooms but also sets in place economic safeguards to protect our state and settles the education funding lawsuit that has been hanging over our state for too long,” he wrote in an argument supporting the measure. He also emphasized that this plan boosts education funding without raising taxes.
- State Speaker of the House David Gowan: Finding funding for education has been the largest challenge in recent years for the Legislature, he wrote. “Prop. 123 is the solution to this challenge. It provides immediate funding and ensures that all increases in state spending are sustainable — both now and in the future.”
- Former State Superintendents of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and Jaime Molera: “We cannot ignore the fact that sufficient resources absolutely are necessary in order to ensure that all students have access to an extraordinary education.”
Who opposes it
- State treasurer Jeff DeWit: “Prop. 123 is a short-term fix that will leave a long-term scar on our schools and state finances,” the treasurer wrote in an argument against the ballot measure. “This is not ‘new money’ for our schools. The more than 100-year old trust fund has been entrusted in our care for all of Arizona’s children, not just the children of the next 10 years,” he added.
- League of Women Voters Arizona: President Shirley Sandelands said in a news release, “We realize educators in Arizona have been placed in an unenviable position of being willing to accept almost anything at this point and the numbers being touted by supporters of Prop 123 sound good, but it’s not a long-term solution.”
- Morgan Abraham: “(Prop. 123) robs from a trust set up by the founders of Arizona to provide long term income for schools which has worked for over 100 years. This Republican Leadership has not fulfilled its constitutional duty to fund education through the general fund.”
• Let’s Vote Yes Prop. 123 For AZ Schools: yesprop123.com
• Vote No on Prop. 123: noprop123.com
• Arizona Secretary of the State: azsos.gov