Governor Ducey has learned a thing or two from recent history.  President George Bush promised no new taxes, saying, “READ MY LIPS …” New taxes were needed.  This certainly played a role in losing his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

No new taxes, balanced budget … those are Ducey’s things.  They sound wonderful, I’d highly consider voting for someone who did both of those, especially a president!  But let’s look just under the surface.

The short-story:  Arizona is growing.  If the state does not provide additional funding for public services like health care, transportation, police and fire, and education, then local communities and municipalities must do so to care for their residents.  

Here’s how it works for education. Other things like fire stations and police departments work in a similar fashion.  Education is 18% of the state budget, which is around $10 billion a year.  It is well documented how that leaves public education in Arizona, ranking 51st in working conditions for teachers in the US (including Washington DC).  

To keep buildings maintained and busses running, schools must ask their local communities to help bridge the gap in the form of bonds and overrides.  These create extra costs themselves and are additional layers of government which are inefficient.  

Bonds are essentially loans that the community pays for with property taxes.  It costs money to run the election for the bond, to manage the bond money, pay back the bond, and then of course the interest the bond earns.  Bonds cannot be used to pay teachers or staff.

The amount of money a school can spend is set by the state.  An override is a locally voter approved measure that will allow a school to spend up to 15% more than the limit set by the state (this is a simplification of how overrides work, but this is the basic idea).  Schools rely heavily on these measures to keep programs running.

All of this is just for education, not fire departments, police departments, or other public services.

Nobody wants to pay more taxes, especially if the money is wasted, right?  It is nice to live in a state with corporate and personal tax rates that are friendly (low).  But, our local and state sales taxes are high, 6th highest in the nation!  In addition, almost 8% of the tax (sales and property) we collect goes to pay interest (see bonds above).

A dollar only goes so far.  The governor has had many things in place that essentially rob Peter to pay Paul, but it appears that gig is up.  A new tax on vehicle registration, technically called a fee, had to be introduced to help pay for transportation, roads, and highway patrol because neither Peter or Paul had any money left to spare.

Here is the kicker … Arizona forgave over $13 billion in corporate taxes in 2017 through tax exemptions and other programs!  But does that entice corporations to move to Arizona? One of the key features sought by companies like Amazon, who is looking to open a second headquarters, is a good public education system.  Both Tucson and Phoenix were removed from the list of potential cities because of the state of public education in Arizona.

 

To summarize, $10 billion isn’t enough money to pay for public services.  Local municipalities go into debt with bonds and have to raise local taxes to pay for those bonds.  A significant portion of the additional money raised by these taxes pays for the interest on those bonds.  

Local communities are scrambling to keep up with growth and service the public while the governor is handing out corporate tax exemptions that far exceed the state’s budget.  The claim is that businesses will be attracted to Arizona. Yet, without a quality public education system, Arizona’s appeal is knocked down several pegs.

Arizona’s corporate tax rate of 4.9% is the 9th lowest in the United States.  

Our state budget might be balanced, but our state is in debt.  

The governor isn’t raising taxes, or even collecting them from corporations.

I’m just a math teacher, I don’t know much about economies.  But this solution seems almost too obvious to state. Why not collect $10 billion of those tax exemptions and double the state budget.  We could build a quality public education system, better infrastructure for growth, and a state of the art health-care program (to attract our main commodity, snow-birds).

In a previous entry I discussed how during the recession the structure of teacher pay was gutted and never resurrected.  The end result has been that teachers today, that taught a decade ago, are in worse financial positions than a decade ago.

While we all hear about the turnover of new teachers, this financial situation is forcing veteran, experienced teachers from the profession.

Teaching takes a long, long time to learn how to do.  If I had to pin a number on how long it took become a component teacher, I’d say 5 years. Regardless of that number, the quality of education coming from a beginning teacher is low, regardless of their potential as a teacher.

I’d like to draw your attention to how veteran teachers, mid-career, are leaving, and what that means for students.  These are the heavy lifters on campuses, those with experience to help new teachers and the energy, lacking from those ready to retire, to do it.  But, they can’t make ends meet! To teach has become a luxury that most cannot afford.

In a post coming soon I’ll discuss how reported teacher salaries are grossly misleading.  You can decide for yourselves, but according to our research the average teacher salary in Arizona is in the middle $30,000 before deductions and taxes.  Throw in medical insurance premiums of up to $8,000, 12% mandatory withholding for ASRS, and taxes, teachers are trying to me ends meet on around $700 to $800 a paycheck.

Now consider that, supposedly, ¼ of teachers in Arizona are within 4 years of retiring.  In that four-year period droves of veteran teachers will find new careers.

The people that will step in will be unqualified or brand new, and as pointed out earlier, doing low quality work. However, without veteran teachers to mentor and coach these new people along, I don’t believe it’s a stretch to imagine that the end result will be damaging to the hopes of students.

If a quality education removes barriers,allowing people access to better lives, and teachers provide that education, and they are leaving in droves because they cannot pay the electric bill, and the public doesn’t hold the governments (state and local) accountable, we will be paying higher taxes for welfare and prisons.  Is that run-on sentence hyperbole?

Is it a stretch to claim that if education is not properly funded today, with powerful oversight to keep the money going where it most matters for students, that we will instead be paying for an increasingly militarized police force? We can give those in greatest need of a quality education access today, or we can incarcerate them tomorrow.

The stability of our economy and the stability of our society is dependent on a quality education system.  

This is a crisis in the making.  We need to exact massive reform in education today!  

This coming year is an election year.  School boards and state level officials from both parties need to feel the urgency of fixing this.  Education reform must be the top priority this November!