Lack of funding for schools just isn't acceptable
There has been a lot of debate over how to define one of the ballot measures on the November ballot.
Some say Proposition 204 is simply a continuation of a tax that helps support the state's public schools. Others say that it is really a new tax. To most voters, that distinction is probably insignificant. They simply need to decide whether it is a good thing or not before they mark their ballots.
Prop 204 is primarily designed to ensure ongoing funding for public schools, although it also sets aside smaller amounts of funding for various transportation and social programs. It would do this by providing for a 1-cent state sales tax effective June 1, 2013. That would be the day after a current 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2010 to support education expires.
The state's public schools were hard-hit during the Great Recession when state lawmakers drastically slashed funding for them in an effort to balance the state budget in the face of big drops in tax revenue. Yuma Elementary School District 1 Superintendent Darwin Stiffler says Arizona's schools suffered the biggest cuts of any in the nation during the recession.
There wasn't a lot to cut. Per-pupil funding for students in Arizona has long been among the lowest in the nation — and is currently 48th in the nation — and the reductions made it even harder for schools to cope.
The 2010 sales tax measure that voters approved was an effort to help them, but unfortunately it was offset by continued education cuts by the Arizona Legislature. One of Prop 204's main goals is to keep that extra funding from the sales tax in place so schools do not sink even lower. It also would force the Legislature to maintain required levels of school funding, whatever economic conditions might exist.
Yuma school officials say keeping that funding is essential, even though they would still not be at the levels of pre-recession funding. If Prop 204 fails, even more cuts would be required at local schools and that would be unacceptable.
The reality is that our state lawmakers have demonstrated how little they care about funding our schools, even putting a higher priority on prisons than educating our children. This attitude is extremely harmful to the state. Schools and a good-quality education system are vital to the future of our children and to the economic vitality of the state. We cannot grow or prosper without having the best schools possible at all levels. That requires money, not political babble.
This leaves it up to the voters to help provide the funding that our leaders seem unwilling to do. Proposition 204 is one way to ensure that money is provided, and it deserves the support of the voters.