YUMA, Ariz. – Next Tuesday, Arizona voters will head to the polls to vote on two propositions for the state. If passed, Proposition 123 would give Arizona schools $3.5 billion for 10 years without raising taxes.
“It will provide some badly needed money,” says Superintendent of Yuma County schools Tom Tyree.
The money will come out of the state’s land trust fund and be distributed to every public or charter school in Arizona. Christian Palmer a spokesperson for Prop 123 says if passed, schools would get the money almost immediately.
“The first month alone right after Prop 123 passes in May would be about $7 million for Yuma county schools,” says Palmer.
Schools would receive approximately $200 – $300 per student.
Tyree says, “What Prop 123 does is it raises the amount you receive for each student you have.”
Arizona Senator Lynne Pancrazi says the money would be raised without increasing any taxes.
“Were taking money off of the interest generated from the state that is 2.5 percent the prop would increase that to 6.9 percent,” says Pancrazi.
Yuma county schools say they are in desperate need of funding to keep up with current teacher salaries nationwide.
Palmer says, “There are teachers who haven’t seen meaningful raises in six, seven, eight, even nine years.”
Instead Tyree says teachers have been receiving pay cuts, leading to an educational crisis.
“About 2008 was when school districts really started to experience real severe cuts in their budgets worth millions of dollars. School districts have cut just about as much as they can.”
Yuma schools have seen plenty of qualified teachers go elsewhere or leave after a few years due to low wages.
“It’s a struggle to attract new teachers to Yuma county and our schools here,” said Tyree.
Yuma Union High School District 1 Superintendent Toni Badone says the money will go right to teachers.
“Yuma Union is actually going to use that money for salaries and raises.”
Prop 123 does allow school district officials to choose where the money will be spent. Schools do not have to use the money to increase teacher salaries but can use it for other school related issues.
Palmer says, “These are decisions that are going to be made by local school district officials and not bureaucrats in Phoenix.”
However, officials with Yuma county schools fear what will happen if Prop 123 is rejected.
Badone says, “If Prop 123 doesn’t pass, the legislatures will have to go back into session or there will have to be some kind of trigger to go to a smaller number and it will be a cut to our schools.”
Opponents of the prop are worried the State Land Trust Fund will lose too much money if the proposition passes.
“I think that there’s some people who feel that it will harm the state’s land trust which is plainly not true. The land trust is an asset that is worth $75 billion,” says Palmer.
Even if the prop is passed, Arizona schools worry about a repeat of recent history.
Tyree warns, “Let’s not forget that the reason we are voting for Prop 123 is because the legislature failed to support Proposition 301.”
Proposition 301 was passed in 2000 pledging Arizona schools $1.4 billion for the next 20 years. However, in 2009 the legislature cut the funding which resulted in a five year lawsuit between the state and a coalition of school districts. The end result from the suit is what created Proposition 123.
“Negotiations going on over the summer and in late October Governor Ducey called a special session for the purpose of creating Prop 123,” says Palmer.
Opponents argue the prop gives a pass to legislators who voted to cut funding from Prop 301. Others say it doesn’t go far enough to help schools and keeps schools in limbo depending on the state’s economy.
Voting is next Tuesday, May 17th and there will be seven polling locations throughout Yuma county. Any registered voter can participate in the special election.