Guest Commentary: Income tax hike won’t deliver for teachers

Jaime A. Molera is the former state superintendent for public instruction and president of the state Board of Education. He helped lead the successful campaign to pass Proposition 301, and he now chairs Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy.

The more we learn about an initiative that would nearly double the individual income tax rate, the worse it gets.

The initiative is being marketed as a major win for teachers. But a just-released research paper says teachers have much to lose if the initiative passes in November.

We already know that because the initiative drafters dramatically redefined ‘teacher’ that any funds derived from the income tax increase will be severely diluted and won’t deliver the big teacher raises that proponents claim.

New research from the Arizona Chamber Foundation, however, finds that the initiative’s redefinition of teacher doesn’t just affect funds generated by the new tax, but also the funds that come from Proposition 301, the nearly 20-year-old .6 percent sales tax that has been a central part of the teacher pay picture in Arizona since its adoption by voters in 2000.

This new initiative stands almost two decades’ worth of teacher funding on its head.

The current effort to pass the nearly triple-digit tax increase stands in stark contrast to the broad coalition that stood behind Proposition 301, a collaboration that was laser-focused on increasing teacher pay.

Proponents of this new tax can’t argue with a straight face that it will deliver the teacher raises they’ve promised. In fact, they’ll fall far short because teacher pay is not the priority in this initiative.

That’s because the initiative drafters—either purposely or mistakenly—have greatly diluted the amount of money that was originally destined for teachers’ paychecks and the classroom from the Classroom Site Fund, which is where Proposition 301 dollars get deposited.

And the Proposition 301 bonuses that school districts have traditionally doled out to the individuals at the head of the classroom? Those get watered down, too, because the eligibility for those bonuses extends far beyond instructional staff. Plant operations and other non-instructional items suddenly become allowable expenses.

It’s a rotten deal for teachers. As the paper puts it, “A larger pool of employees sharing the same amount of money means that if this new definition takes hold, teachers should expect to receive a smaller share of the Proposition 301 revenue than in the past.”

Arizonans and the state’s business community know we need to do more for teacher pay. We also acknowledge that it’s not just the classroom teacher who plays a vital role in a student’s success. But this initiative is so devoid of guardrails around how our tax dollars are used that it severely damages any semblance of accountability to parents and taxpayers, and allows wild variances from district to district in how much of the revenue goes to teachers.

Voters who want to help teachers should read the fine print on this initiative. Unlike Proposition 301, which prohibits any dollars from being used for administrative functions, the tax hike initiative allows for all sorts of diversions away from the classroom.

As highlighted by the Foundation’s paper, the initiative “allows governing boards to ignore traditional definitions of administration and make administrative functions eligible for all categories of Classroom Site Fund, as well as new [initiative], revenue.”

We all want to acknowledge and reward the good work of teachers. That’s why job creators across the state so loudly supported the plan that will deliver an average statewide teacher pay increase of 20 percent by the start of the 2020 school year.

It’s why we supported the passage of Proposition 301 18 years ago.

It’s why we supported the 20-year extension of Proposition 301 this spring.

It’s why we supported the restoration of the funding stream known as District Additional Assistance totaling $370 million.

It’s why we campaigned so hard for the successful passage of Proposition 123, which increases the distribution from the state land trust to our schools by $3.5 billion over the course of a decade.

We’re ready to do more for teachers, and we believe Arizonans want to invest in them. But this is not the plan our taxpayers and teachers deserve.  

Guest Contributor

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