Restoring the partnership between businesses, workers, teachers associations, and educators is possible, and it must come to fruition for the sake of all Arizonans.
In 2018, Arizona’s education system came under national scrutiny following a statewide teacher strike that left many Arizona students out of school for weeks on end. I was one of those students, as were most of my peers who are now in college.
Lost in the constant criticism of our state’s education system are the great strides everyday citizens, leaders in industry and government, and voters have made in improving K-12 infrastructure.
Direct democracy’s role
Since 2000, voters have passed into law nine propositions via direct popular vote that have impacted the education system.
Prop 301 – 2000
Proposition 301, passed into law by a 53.5% majority in the year 2000, increased the state sales tax by 6/10ths of one-percent, with revenues directed towards education.
Proposition 301 directly funded increased teacher salaries, a statewide measurement for academic success (known as the AIMS test), a database that would track student performance, character development and safety programs, technology and research initiatives, and more, as well as higher education..
Enjoying broad support from education advocates, public officials, business leaders, and Arizona families, Proposition 301’s success was attributed to its wide-reaching coalitions of support. The business community backed the measure, understanding that a well-educated workforce and money tied to performance metrics was a win-win for Arizona’s economy and education system.
In 2018, the Arizona legislature passed SB 1390, a bipartisan bill that extended Prop. 301 through 2041, as it was set to expire in 2021. This measure was overwhelmingly endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats, and signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey.
Prop 100 – 2010
Proposition 100 created a temporary one-cent sales tax that would contribute to Arizona education. The monies raised from the tax were distributed to support primary and secondary education, health and human services, and public safety.
The Great Recession severely damaged Arizona’s education spending, and Prop. 100 was seen as a path to preventing deeper cuts to education. In May 2013, the proposition expired, and not without its benefits: Arizona had invested more in education as a result of the initiative.
Prop 123 – 2016
Designed to boost Arizona education spending by more than $3.5 billion through 2026/27, Prop. 123 reallocated funds from the state land trust towards education.
Endorsed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, Democrat Phoenix Mayor (now Congressman) Greg Stanton, the Navajo Nation and others, including the business community, Proposition 123 was seen as a path to increasing education funds without raising taxes.
Sharon Harper, an Arizona job creator, said, “We can afford the governor’s plan, and it will not weaken the Land Trust’s asset base. Most importantly, the Land Trust will finally begin working as it was intended: to buttress the state’s education funding.”
Gubernatorial and legislative triumph
Elected leaders, and by extension the voters, have also played a large role in promoting our state’s education foundation.
Following the “Red for Ed” strike in 2018, Governor Doug Ducey and Republican majorities in the state House and Senate passed a 20% pay raise for Arizona teachers, as well as additional funds for students, classrooms, and staff. This was all done without raising taxes and while still running a budget surplus thanks to years of fiscal prudence and financial planning.
An impressive list of associations and chambers of commerce, from the Arizona Technology Council, to the Arizona Chamber, to the Greater Phoenix Chamber, to the Tucson Hispanic Chamber also endorsed the proposal.
The pay raise promised to teachers was fully implemented by the start of the 2020 school year.
Building on our progress
Like most things, when it comes to education, Arizonans have a lot to be proud of. Our state continues to make necessary investments and reforms, forging bipartisan coalitions in the public and private arenas. Ultimately, this rich legacy is a testament to the voters’ willingness to invest in our state’s future.
Unfortunately, this track record has been damaged in recent years.
Prop. 208 passed by a thin margin statewide in 2020, raising income taxes on top-income earners and small businesses by 77.7%. Independent studies indicate that it will hurt Arizona’s economy, dampen education revenue streams, and slow down job growth just as the state is projected to grow faster than the average state following the Coronacession.
How can we recover this progress? It will take leaders from every side of these debates putting aside their ideological priors and looking at what is best for the whole of Arizona, and most importantly for the next generation of Arizonans.
It will also take acknowledgement that a healthy economy allows the government to spend more as revenues increase. Businesses and schools are not in opposition to one another. A healthy pro-business and pro-worker climate is only possible when education is well-funded and well-run, and vice versa.
Joe Pitts is the program director for the Arizona Junior Fellows Program and executive director of Business Ballot, a project of the Arizona Chamber Foundation.