Casa Grande and the region is projected to attract 30,000 new jobs over the next decade. If we land even a fraction of those new jobs, can our current and future students fill the need? Will we be able to differentiate ourselves with an educated workforce to compete for the jobs of the future? The 110th Arizona Town Hall on funding preK-12 education says no. And, the worst hasn’t even hit us.

The education funding crisis brewing for decades has gone unnoticed by many — including voters — who may not be steeped in the issue and how complex the funding system has become. In fact, it’s said that only a handful of experts even understand the complex funding mess.

I was grateful to be among hundreds of community members who recently participated in the 110th Arizona Town Hall three-day program and community town halls held all over the state. Using Arizona Town Hall’s consensus-driven, problem-solving dialogue, we developed a comprehensive, common-sense roadmap. Participants included vast political spectrums, education experts and stay-at-home moms and yet we all shared one common belief: Arizona must do better for our students.

That means advancing and supporting a variety of funding streams, investing heavily in teacher pay, uncovering the little-known impacts of school choice and seeking a more equitable distribution of funds to schools in rural areas and in other areas challenged by the funding system that no longer serves all children.

Teacher pay is probably the most well-known issue facing us. It’s easy to talk about, yet the political will hasn’t matched the public support. It’s an issue that demands immediate attention.

The recommendations call for us to reverse the effects of a decade of budget cuts by providing additional one-time and annual investments. Action steps include:

  • A one-time investment of $1.3 billion to address existing deficiencies, including for deferred maintenance
  • A one-time investment of $343 million for new school construction and an annual investment of $250 million
  • An additional $380 million annually to restore the capital funding formula
  • An additional $900 million annually to bring teacher pay in line with the national median
  • An additional $440 million annually to develop and implement state-funded preK and full-day kindergarten
  • Additional investments for teacher recruitment and retention, in-state tuition waivers, student loan repayment programs, early childhood education, community college workforce development programs, programs that serve higher-need students and measures to reduce class size.

Funding streams that might be tapped to pay for such critical investments include:

  • Renew and expand Proposition 301 to provide for an incremental statewide sales tax of 1.5 percent (in lieu of current 0.6 percent)
  • Repeal limitations on Legislature-approved tax increases enacted pursuant to Proposition 108
  • Modernize the basic formula for state funding of preK-12 education to level the playing field among different types of schools and diverse student populations
  • Implement new uniform statewide property tax to provide additional revenue
  • Adjust the equalization formula to require all districts to levy the qualifying tax rate, which, if levied uniformly across the state, would generate nearly $200 million in additional funding on an annual basis
  • Create potential revenue streams such as sales taxes on professional or other services, or excise taxes
  • Close corporate tax loopholes.

We know it’s up to us to roll up our sleeves. Read the report and find out what you can do to make a difference to steer us away from that cliff. Make your concerns heard by contacting your lawmakers found at azleg.gov/members.

I, for one, am not ready for cliff jumping. Let’s all become education advocates. Our future depends on it.

———

Evelyn Casuga of Casa Grande was a volunteer at the 110th Arizona Town Hall on Education Funding PreK-12. Find out more at www.aztownhall.org.

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