PHOENIX — With no movement from the governor and GOP lawmakers, a coalition of teachers, parents and education advocates are going to take their case for more state aid directly to voters.
The plan would boost the state income tax by 4.46 percent on individuals with taxable income of at least $500,000 or households with $1 million or more.
A smaller increase of 3.46 percent would apply to those earning $250,000 or more.
Depending on how it is structured, it could nearly double what those in those income brackets owe the state.
If approved, 60 percent of the money raised would go to teacher salaries. That would most immediately provide dollars for the 19 percent teacher pay hike that Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislative leaders have agreed to provide.
Ducey's plan, however, lacks an actual funding source, with the governor insisting that the price tag of $670 million by the 2020-2021 school year can be financed largely through an improving economy.
But the initiative also would include dollars for general operating budgets, helping to restore the $1 billion that education advocates say have been cut from state aid to schools in the past decade.
It would permit schools to use some of those dollars for pay raises for support staff, people not included in the governor's plan. But school boards would be required to see input from teachers and staff on how to use those dollars.
The move comes after Ducey and Republican lawmakers have rebuffed demands by education groups to come up with a dedicated source of funding for not just the pay raise but other education needs.
Lawmakers could raise the taxes themselves. But that would take a nearly impossible two-thirds vote.
In fact, Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, has failed to generate sufficient interest among his colleagues
And the Republican leadership has shown little interest in a proposal by Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, for a temporary one-cent surcharge on the state sales tax to generate $1 billion a year while education groups look at putting something on the 2020 ballot.
All this comes as the strike that has closed most schools entered its second day on Friday, with a second day of a rally on the Capitol lawn.
The Arizona Education Association pegged attendance at 30,000, compared with 50,000 the day before; the Department of Public Safety estimated the rally at only about 4,000.
Whatever the number, Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said some of what is disheartening is that most lawmakers were not even around to hear from educators, having adjourned Thursday until Monday.
And Ducey continues to remain adamant that teachers should return to their classrooms as he's giving them the raise they want — even if it doesn't include specific dollars for support staff and even if it does not spell out how the state intends to bring aid to schools back to where it was a decade earlier.
It is that gap that the initiative is designed to address.
Current state aid to K-12 schools is $5.39 billion. That compares with $5.15 billion a decade ago.
But in that same time, nearly 79,000 youngsters have been added to the system, bringing enrollment up about 1.1 million.
So the actual aid per student of $4,949 a decade ago, dropped to $4,760 now.
What really makes a difference, though, is those dollars have not kept pace with inflation. Once that is factored in, legislative budget staffers say the money per student is worth $1,000 less than in 2008.
Multiply that by 1.1 million students and that's the $1 billion missing.
There's also the question of reliability of state dollars for education.
David Lujan, treasurer of the coalition and the director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, pointed out that lawmakers had agreed two decades ago to assume the responsibility for new school construction and major repairs. That program, known as Students FIRST -- for Fair and Immediate Resources for Schools Today -- was designed to put the state into compliance with a decision of the Arizona Supreme Court which found the state was not complying with its constitutional obligation to fund a ``general and uniform'' school system.
So in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 budget years, the state set aside $200 million for construction; that went to $250 million in 2002.
But there were no dollars for the following three years before funding was restored — only to be effectively zeroed out again in 2009.
“We believe Students FIRST provides a valuable lesson for today's legislature that failing to identify a reliable revenue source for a significant investment in public education is a recipe for unfulfilled promises,” he said earlier this month in releasing the statistics.