Prop 123: More Money More Problems?

Prop 123 promises $3.5 billion to Arizona schools, but is it too good to be true?

Arizona schools are stuck in an unenviable position. Out of 50 states, Arizona placed 48th in amount of money spent for each student: every Arizonan child in K-12 education equaled $7,208 spent, according to a 2013 report from the US Census Bureau (for reference, the national average that year was $10,700).

The state’s budget for education has been so dire that a group of school districts sued the state, accusing the legislature of failing to adjust school budgets as inflation rose. The courts ruled in the schools’ favor last year, but the legislature has refused to pony up the $336 million it owes the schools.

Proposition 123, a measure on the special election ballot for next month, aims to resolve that lawsuit.

“Proposition 123,” said Gov. Doug Ducey in an argument filed to support the measure, “is our innovative way of ensuring that our schools get additional sustainable funding now and into the future – without raising taxes.”

That fiscal miracle would be pulled off by increasing the percentage education draws from the State Land Trust from the current 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent. It is an obscure solution for an immediate problem, which has drawn criticism of the bill.

“This is not ‘new money’ for our schools,” said State Treasurer Jeff DeWit in an argument filed against the measure. “The…Trust Fund has been entrusted in our care for all of Arizona’s children, not just the children of the next ten years. Kids in elementary school or younger will see a huge drop off in funding before they even reach high school.”

The Precedent contacted the State Land Department with questions about how the increased rates would affect the State Land Trust, only to be informed that the Department was unable to discuss Prop 123.   

Even more concerning are the budget caps written into the bill, which are set to stop the inflation adjustment if the state budget hits certain “triggers.” The first, which goes into effect as soon as the bill is passed, halts the payout if either the state sales tax or employment grows less than 2 percent that year. The second, which starts in 2025, suspends the inflation adjustment if education makes up 49 percent or more of the state budget.

Considering these factors, the decision voters face  is not easy as 123. In many ways, it is more like a catch-22: if Prop 123 does not pass, schools will receive no money at all and have to resume an embittered legal battle to gain anything, with no guarantee that strategy will work.

Our schools are desperate and it is only because of this desperation that Prop 123 is even being considered by advocates of education,” argued interest group No Prop 123. “[The legislation] doesn’t bring any revenue that is not owed to our schools, it just spends future money today, while constitutionally limiting spending for future students.”   

While this analysis may be accurate, Prop 123 remains the only option on the table for funding Arizona schools. As such, many educators support it.

“Very simply, Prop 123 will benefit our employees,” said District Superintendent Camille Casteel.

She explained that for Chandler schools, the money would be used to substantially raise teachers’ salaries for the first time since 2008. “We intend to increase salaries and hire more teachers to keep our teacher-student ratio reasonable. The money will certainly benefit CUSD as we attempt to attract and retain the best teachers,” said Casteel.

The Precedent contacted the six state representatives who co-sponsored the bill with requests for interviews; all six declined to comment.   

Arizona will hold a special election for  Prop 123 on May 17. The polling place closest to PHS will be the LDS church building located at 4170 S. Ranch House Parkway in Gilbert.

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