I attended a Prop 123 Summit with Education Advocates two days ago in Phoenix. All the major education advocacy organizations were “in the house” and the Governor’s Yes on Prop 123 Campaign staff were ready to tell us how we can help them get the initiative passed. The organizations represented in the room had mostly already “signed on” to supporting the proposition. What they shared yesterday though is the concerns their members were raising about the recent anti-public education actions underway in the Arizona Legislature. The concern in the room was how much harder this was making the “sell” of Prop 123.
When the inflation lawsuit settlement was first announced and the details were made public, I heard from many people that “okay, I’ll hold my nose and support this, but I’ll be watching for what new monies the Governor includes in his budget for education.” Well, the answer is basically “none.” Then my thinking was “well, if they at least don’t try to cut anymore, maybe it will be okay.” Guess what? Now we are looking at $211 million in deseg funding cuts, a change to current year funding, and the Legislature is trying to push through opening the floodgates on vouchers.
Dr. Jennifer Johnson, of Support Our Schools AZ and its Arizona Parents Network, was at the meeting yesterday and to the announcement of the “$4.5 million budget the “Yes on Prop 123” campaign has, she had a brilliant response. “The $4.5 million is great,” she said, “but at the end of the day, the only currency that counts is trust.” In the last seven words of her statement, Dr. Johnson summed up this entire situation for me. Trust is a commodity that is in very short supply these days and, it isn’t something that can be demanded, or built overnight. It comes from relationships built on good faith and then nurtured by mutual respect and favorable outcomes.
The campaign staff made the point repeatedly that Governor Ducey is dedicated to passing Prop 123 to get our schools additional funding. I want to believe that, and mostly do, but in the back of my mind, I have that nagging reminder of Prop 204. Lest we forget, back in 2012 when Doug Ducey was the AZ Treasurer, he actively fought Prop 204, a one-cent sales tax hike to support public schools. Granted, this was a tax increase and he has made it clear he does not support them. But, it does call into question his commitment to moving Arizona schools up from 50th in funding and 48th in performance.
I am basically an optimist and so I want to believe. But, I am worried that “past performance indicates future results.” I know Governor Ducey is committed to eliminating the state income tax, continuing corporate tax breaks, and supporting school choice in all its forms. Where does this leave the largest single line item (K-12 public education) in the Arizona budget (and by the way, the number one job of the state?)?
All I can say is that the Governor has an opportunity to begin to build trust with the education advocates and the people of Arizona. We’ve agreed to potentially allow more of our state trust land revenues to fund education costs that our tax dollars should have been used for. Now we need to know that these monies won’t be siphoned off to non-accountable private schools for mostly well-off students, or used for corporate tax breaks via what is cut in deseg funding and the change to current year funding (which oh by the way, is much more favorable to charter schools than districts.)
I learned a long time ago that a deal is best made when both parties feel they did well. Giving our districts 70 percent of what is owed them from money that is already theirs was already a tough sell as a fair deal. Taking some of that money away with subsequent bad legislation might just make it too hard to swallow.