by Félix Pérez
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the Koch Bros. have a longstanding mutual admiration club. Ducey owes his political career to the billionaire industrialists, and David and Charles Koch take great pride in the zeal with which their favorite son has doled out corporate tax cuts, cut funding to schools and colleges and universities, and enacted a corporate tuition tax credit program for private school vouchers.
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But the state’s voters are signaling Ducey’s corporate-tax-cuts-above-all-else policies are exacting too high a price on public schools, which rank 49th in the nation in per-pupil funding. A recent poll found that almost 66 percent of voters said they would pay higher state taxes to improve public schools. The poll, conducted by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, also found that 77 percent of voters agree full-day kindergarten should be fully funded by the state.
Andrew Morrill, a high school English teacher, said lawmakers should heed the poll’s findings. “Arizona’s lawmakers have stacked the deck against ordinary Arizonans in favor of the wealthy. Hard-working Arizonans haven’t seen any benefit from the state’s tax-cuts over policy for the past two decades. While teachers haven’t had raises in years, CEO pay in Arizona has reached record highs. A school teacher earning $42,000 pays double the tax rate as the richest 1 percent in our state. Arizona voters want to see their tax dollars go into the classroom, not the pockets of wealthy special interests.”
In March, Ducey signed a $9.1 billion budget that slashed $113.4 million from classroom materials, technology, building repairs, and more, representing an overall loss of $352.4 million to school districts when combined with the prior year’s cuts. The loss amounts to approximately $135 per student. The budget also eliminated all state funding for Pima and Maricopa college districts and Central Arizona College and cut 14 percent of support for state universities, or 14 percent of their state support. Prior to the Ducey budget, Arizona legislators had cut education funding by $1 billion over the last five years.
Ducey and lawmakers said the cuts were necessary in light of the state’s finances, even though the budget included $267 million in corporate tax giveaways, $500,000 to Teach for America, and more than $100 million for a corporate tuition tax credit program for private school vouchers.
That poll results “shouldn’t be too surprising,” said David Daugherty, associate director at Morrison Institute and director of the poll. “Voters seem to understand how the state’s changing demographics are intrinsically linked to the state’s ability to succeed economically through a skilled and educated workforce.”
Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the poll sends a clear message to Ducey and state lawmakers:
Arizona should invest in public education, technology, and create jobs, instead of creating tax breaks for billionaires and loopholes for big corporations. We need to make sure children receive a quality public education and that college and job training are affordable. The promise of America is for everyone, not just the wealthy few.
Ducey, in response to a judge ordering the legislature in July 2014 to pay $330 million to schools, has proposed a plan to increase school funding by tapping the state’s land trust. The judge’s order is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Education Association and others who argued that lawmakers had failed to provide annual inflation adjustments for schools as required by a voter-approved law. AEA and the other plaintiffs agreed to settle the inflation lawsuit and support a special ballot election next May to vote on Ducey’s proposal.