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The Case Against Proposition 208

October 15, 2020

October 15, 2020

This year, Arizonans will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 208—the so-called Invest in Ed initiative. This week, Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg joined KJZZ to offer his commentary on why Arizonans should vote against Prop 208—below are his thoughts:

We’ve all heard many times that Arizona’s education system is inadequate—that our teachers are underpaid and our students are underserved. And we’ve heard that we can solve all this if we spent more money on public education, the way Prop. 208 would do.

But there’s a problem with this narrative, and even bigger problems with both the dose and type of medicine Arizonans are being asked to swallow under this proposal. For example, it was true that Arizona’s teacher pay was among the lowest in the nation years ago, after the Great Recession hit. However, that’s no longer the case. Arizonans just gave a billion dollars a year for a 20% teacher pay raise and other funding increases. Yet just a few months ago, the teachers’ union backers of Prop. 208 shrugged off this huge investment that Arizonans just made, calling it, quote, “nothing” while continuing to tell us we’re near last place.

Now, it’s hard to square with the idea that we should put another billion dollars into the system if they’re going to tell us the last billion made such little difference. But unfortunately, this isn’t some one-off example. Proponents tell us endlessly that the U.S. and Arizona have cut K-12 funding year after year, even as they quietly tiptoe around the fact that K-12 funding in America and Arizona has dramatically increased over the last several decades. Across the U.S., we now spend nearly three times the amount per student than we did in 1970, even adjusted for inflation—while our academic outcomes and the achievement gap facing marginalized students in district schools have hardly budged.

So what’s the point? What we’ve heard about K-12 funding and the rationale for Prop. 208 from proponents’ talking points isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. More funding certainly can be helpful in certain cases, but it’s time Arizonans started demanding reform, not just bigger paychecks for school district staff. But Prop. 208 includes not a single metric on student achievement, nor a single reform to rein in existing waste and administrative bloat. And on top of that, only 13 cents of every dollar from Prop. 208’s tax increase will go to actual classroom teachers.

Worse, Prop. 208 does all of this while hurting Arizonans who are trying to get back to work in the wake of COVID-19. If it passes, Prop. 208 would nearly double Arizona’s top tax rate, putting us among the top 10 highest taxing states in the nation and sending job creators and successful small business owners elsewhere. In fact, half of those directly impacted by Prop. 208’s tax rates would be small business owners. And the most charitable economic projections estimate that by targeting job creating small businesses so acutely, Prop. 208 will end up costing Arizona more than 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years alone. At the same time, it will cost $2.4 billion in lost tax revenue for non-K-12 government functions, things like Child Protective Services and the university system.

In short, Prop. 208 will inflict extraordinary economic damage and swell school district payrolls while promising not an ounce of academic improvement to students. This is not a trade Arizonans should be eager to make.



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