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Jonathan Hoffman: Why Prop. 208 'Invest in Ed' is a bad idea
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Jonathan Hoffman: Why Prop. 208 'Invest in Ed' is a bad idea

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Last election cycle there was an Invest in Ed ballot prop filed that was knocked off the ballot because the 100-word summary was deceptive. They ran another one this cycle that was also bumped off the ballot for the same reason, but this time the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision and it is back on the ballot.

If passed, the Invest in Ed ballot Prop. 208 will permanently increase Arizona’s top marginal income tax rate by approximately 77% (from 4.5% to 8%) for individuals who make more than $250,000. It is estimated by supporters to raise close to a billion dollars a year.

Who is funding this effort? According to the 2020 Arizona Second Quarter Campaign Finance Report, Invest in Ed received $4,605,593.07 of which $4,079,611.06 came from Stand for Children, a Portland, Oregon based education funding and policy advocacy group. The same report shows local donations from Save Our Schools and the Arizona Education Association.

Where will the money go? The money is designated as follows: 1) 50% will be allocated, “for the purpose of hiring teachers and classroom support personnel”; 2) 25% will be allocated, “for the purpose of hiring student support services personnel and increasing base compensation for student support personnel”; 3) 12% is designated to career training and 3% to the Arizona Teachers Academy fund.

Those are the designations, but money is fungible and the districts write the budgets. I could find no oversight or enforcement clauses in the prop.

Will this influx of cash improve student outcomes? Maybe. According to the U.S. Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics, from 1970 to 2010 the inflation adjusted cost of educating a student from K-12 increased over 180%, employees almost doubled, and outcomes in the areas of reading, science, and math remained flat.

There is research, however, that suggests increased spending can sometimes improve outcomes when it is accompanied by the right policy changes.

Who foots the bill? Invest in Ed will add a “surcharge” to the top marginal Arizona income tax rate effectively increasing it 77% for individuals earning over $250,000 and couples earning over $500,000. A number of business groups have reported that 50% of those affected by the increase will be small businesses. Since the “surcharge” is not indexed to inflation, it will eventually hit those with less buying power than those affected today.

Couldn’t these problems be fixed down the road? Alas, in 1998 voters passed, via Prop 105, the Voter Protection Act, an initiative which created a constitutional amendment that prevented the governor from vetoing, or the legislature from repealing, any laws created by citizen initiative. The legislature may only modify those laws with a three-quarters supermajority vote, and then only if that action furthers the intent of the law.

So, all the problems we see now with the Invest in Ed ballot prop, and all those that will appear in the future, will be there forever unless another ballot prop is run to repeal it. Good luck with that.

Teachers play an important role in childhood learning and development, but it is the parents of those children who know their children intimately, their strengths, weaknesses, interests and talents.

As former school teacher and Arizona governor Jane D. Hull once said, “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”

Our present school system evolved in the era of industrial revolution. Kids are lined up in rows and fed a bunch of facts, then moved down the line. Maybe the key to better outcomes is to involve parents more directly as partners with teachers instead of dumping more money onto the education factory.

Jonathan Hoffman has lived and worked in Tucson for 40 years. Write to him at tucsonsammy@gmail.com.

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