by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Let’s Vote Yes for Arizona Schools
Arizonans, thanks to a partnership that brought together educators, parents, community groups and elected officials from both parties, voted last week to adopt a ballot initiative that will pump $3.5 billion into Arizona schools over the next 10 years.
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The adoption of Proposition 123 settles a years-long lawsuit without raising taxes, but still falls short of recovering school funding cuts. The majority of the new funding comes from Arizona’s state land trust fund.
Educators and other supporters of Proposition 123 celebrated the hard-won victory — 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent, with than 1 million votes cast — but described it as a long-overdue first step and cautioned that Arizona’s schools need another $1.2 billion to restore cuts made since the 2008 recession.
“The closeness of this vote is a clear indication that voters want to see a bigger ongoing commitment to public education,” said Andrew Morrill, a high school English teacher and president of the Arizona Education Association. “There will be a moment of celebration, but there will be a long-term expectation that we go forward now into deeper conversations into education funding and take care of needs that Prop 123 doesn’t address.”
Gov. Doug Ducey, who was a major booster for the proposition, focused on the ballot victory. He said in a statement:
I want to thank all the teachers, parents, education champions, business leaders and elected leaders on both sides of the aisle who worked tirelessly to advocate for this proposition. This was truly a broad, bipartisan coalition that brought individuals together who don’t always agree. While this campaign is over, that spirit should live on in all we do, especially when it comes to education.
Once the results are certified in the next week or so, Arizona schools will immediately get their first $250 million installment for the current fiscal year. In July they’ll get another $250 million payment. Arizona currently ranks 49th in per pupil funding.
Responding to an exit poll, voters who approved Proposition 123 said they did so to give schools needed funding, but 49 percent of them said they do not think the measure provides enough funding for public education. Seventy-six percent of all voters said they think state funding for public schools should be increased. The poll was sponsored by Arizona Education Association, Children’s Action Alliance and Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association.