By Noor Haghighi
The great state of Arizona is notorious for its failure to meet national education standards.
As of this year, we sit at 49th place for overall education based on data determining quality and safety. In 2018, Arizonans took to the streets to protest in favor of Red for Ed, a movement that pushed for an increase in state government spending on public education. Since the outcome of Red for Ed was unfortunately of little help, the state still has a long way to go. And now that the elections are coming up in November, Proposition 208 has come into play.
A stripped down, digestible version of what the proposition introduces in regards to educational funding in Arizona is as follows: A vote “yes” on the ballot will support increasing the income tax from 4.5% to 8% on income above $250,000 if single-filing or $500,000 joint-filing; an increase of 3.5%.
The Census Bureau reported that, in 2018, the median household income in Arizona stood at $59,246, meaning most Arizonans won’t even have to worry about the extra tax. David Lujan, Director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, attests that the tax payers for this Prop are in the top 1% of Arizonan earners. At this point, the proposition seems like a no brainer.
Some, however, do not see it that way. The leading organization striking against the proposition is called Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy. Although they have been consistently listed as an opposer of Proposition 208, I find nothing but opposition to Prop 207 (legalization of recreational cannabis) on their Facebook page.
Part of the organization’s mission statement on Facebook states “Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy aims to defeat the harmful and misleading Invest in Education Initiative. Our effort, led by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime A. Molera, wants to maintain Arizona’s thriving economy and ensure that teachers are receiving any future monies that are invested into education.”
For many of the statements that Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy makes on their Facebook, Invest in Education provides corresponding rebuttals on their website. For example, the former claims that Proposition 208 “is a personal income tax increase on ALL Arizona taxpayers.” The latter explains that since the increase would be on a marginal tax rate. “A married couple making $501,000 in taxable income would be taxed an additional $35 annually. That’s it.”
KJZZ, a Phoenix-based member station of NPR, recently did an interview with two individuals, giving them the chance to either promote or denounce Proposition 208. Matt Beienburg is the director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative and libertarian think tank located in Phoenix. His argument states that the teacher pay in Arizona is actually a lot better than we think it is and that “Arizonans just gave a billion dollars a year for a 20% teacher pay raise and other funding increases.” According to Beienburg, the backers of Prop 208 completely ignored this raise and, by passing the proposition, would be targeting small businesses and causing the loss of 100,000 jobs over the next ten years — a point he fails to back up with any evidence.
According to statistics released in August by business.org, Arizona still sits comfortably in 46th place with a teacher pay that is 16.9% below the national average. Arizona’s teachers earn an average salary of $49,892, which falls $35,997 short of New York’s average salary, the highest in the country.
Beienburg also stated that, with Proposition 208, only 13 cents of every tax dollar will be going toward actual classroom teachers. He provided no further evidence to prove this point, however, so it was hardly believable for me. The proposition does indeed entail a goal of distributing 50% of tax revenue to teacher salaries, which would be upheld by holding schools accountable for audits that would ensure the money is going where planned.
This brings up another common thread of refutation made against Prop 208. The official document of the proposition defines a teacher as “non-administrative personnel, including certified teachers, who instruct students or support student academic achievement … including classroom teachers, early childhood teachers, mentor teachers, instructional coaches and academic interventionists.”
Some claim this definition to be ambiguous, as it takes into account the equal needs of support staff like counselors, but those people work their asses off too — they sacrifice their time and energy for students just like regular teachers do. If anything, this makes Prop 208 more inclusive and necessary. Carrie Wolf, president of the Tempe Elementary Education Association, insists that “schools cannot safely function without nurses, counselors, bus drivers, instructional aids, and nutritional service workers. It is not too much to ask that we offer our professional wages for them, so they can afford to feed their families while they take care of ours.”
Not only have several of my high school teachers voiced that they’ve fallen victim to poor funding, but until February, my mom worked at an elementary school, so I witnessed the economic struggle that teachers and staff endure first hand. In Arizona, it seems like the government is in constant battle with them and with education because the priority is upholding the economy. Clearly, the economy’s health is vital to the country’s functionality, but when something like Proposition 208 barely even affects the average household income, there is no threat to the economy.
If we vote “yes” on Proposition 208, we’ll have a chance at enhancing the state’s educational resources while reducing teacher turnover. I think that’s something worth voting for.