Majority Leader: We’ve increased funding for schools, expanded school choice and lowered taxes

As the dust settles on the battle over taxes and education, the landscape shows bright days ahead for Arizona. We now boast a flat 2.5% income tax that is both simple and helps the poor with a generous standard deduction and tax credits for families. Arizona has the first truly universal school choice program in the nation, where every school-age child is eligible for an Empowerment Scholarship Account. And we did all that while boosting education funding by billions over the last few years. 

Rep. Ben Toma

The effort to install punitive income taxes on high-earners and small businesses through the Proposition 208 initiative only galvanized legislative efforts to improve our income tax system. Activists represented by the teachers union and funded dominantly by out-of-state money once again sidestepped the legislative process and stubbed their toe (again) by pushing an unconstitutional measure. 

Ballot-box tax increases not only create bad policy by targeting minority groups like smokers or certain tax brackets, they result in monies schools cannot plan for because they must wait to see what is generated. 

Instead of schools having to rely on an unstable revenue source made up of unpredictable business profits and capital gains, the Legislature added more than Prop. 208 was slated to give to K-12 schools into the base formula this year alone. Ask any school leader which they would prefer. 

For those who think schools are underfunded and are willing to sign up for any tax increase, it’s become clear the activists who seek to change Arizona’s fundamental attraction as a low-cost, business friendly state are failing at their efforts and do not have your best interests in mind. It’s time to jettison that approach. 

The State of Arizona has added more than $2.5 billion in K-12 spending in the last few years. Not including federal monies, state and local dollars amount to $12.6 billion this year for an average of $11,317 per pupil. We’ve boosted the formula to target special education needs and low-income students. We’re on pace to spend more than $200 million on school building improvements statewide this year. These are astounding increases and yet the activist crowd mocks them as they dangle the carrot in front of the horse. 

And we did all this while dramatically cutting income taxes and eliminating the state property tax rate, which will save property taxpayers 5% on average. This was possible because a vibrant economy produces increased tax revenues. 

Republicans in the Legislature want school funding to be fair, sufficient, and to follow the student to their school of choice. The effort to repeal the ESA law via referral was a flop, resulting in fewer signatures collected than their effort in 2017 despite needing far more this time. It is a reflection that school choice is in demand and assigning children to schools with red lines on a map is a dying proposition. We will improve our funding formulas to ensure parents have equal purchasing power across the state and across systems. It’s not only legally justified but a moral imperative. 

We will continue to battle out-of-state interest groups who want to slow the progress we’ve made. We’re proud to be a model for other states on school choice. Let’s continue to improve our education system so all Arizonans have access to a quality school and positive outcomes. 

Ben Toma is the Republican Majority Leader for the Arizona House of Representatives and serves the new Legislative District 27, which includes Peoria and Glendale. Follow him on Twitter at @RepBenToma.

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