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Mon, Feb. 17

Urge Prop 301 to guarentee students get deserved funds

Do you want to make a difference in a child's future? You can by voting yes on Proposition 301 on Nov. 7.

Currently, Arizona ranks 50th in school spending, 49th in dropout rate, 47th in class size and 44th in teacher salaries. These are grim statistics by anyone's standards. But we can turn them around on Election Day if we pass Prop 301: Education 2000.

Prop 301 calls for a modest increase in sales tax — only 6 cents for every $10 you spend and will create nearly half a billion additional dollars for Arizona's public schools. This is the largest increase in school funding Arizona has ever had. Best of all, the dollars go right to the classrooms, teachers and support personnel.

The money from this bill will be used to supplement, not supplant, current education funding. The money, almost a half billion dollars each year, is allotted in very specific ways.

Arizona will need 30,000 teachers over the next 10 years. A percentage of the money will be used to increase teacher salaries. This increase will allow Arizona schools to attract and keep the best and brightest teachers. This increase will be added to the base student level each year and amounts to 2 percent for the next five years. After five years, the amount will be 2 percent or the inflation factor, whichever is less. This inflationary adjustment will include support personnel as well. Arizona schools have not received an inflationary increase seven out of the last 10 years.

Arizona currently has the fourth largest class size in the nation. Arizona is 49th in dropout rate and we have tough new AIMS standards. The bill allows for class size to be reduced so every student gets the attention and academic support he or she needs. It has been proven that students learn better and achieve more in smaller classes.

No state requires fewer teaching days than Arizona at 175. Funds are available to phase in five more school days over the next five years.

In addition, the bill provides for enhanced school safety programs, extra help for struggling students and money to build and repair schools. Money will be spent on our colleges and universities. There is money for technology and workforce development.

There is concern that this tax increase will hurt low-income families. The bill provides money ($25 million) for a low-income tax credit. This will provide a $25 tax rebate for an individual and $100 for a family of four, making less than $25,000 per year. It freezes the primary qualifying property tax rate at the current level.

Many people are concerned about the accountability for this money. This is another area where the bill is very specific. The Arizona Department of Education will annually assess each school.

Budget forms will be created to show that the classroom site funds are used separately from all other funds by each district. By Nov. 15, each district must report to the state school superintendent expenditures for the previous year and a summary of results of district and school programs funded. Performance audits will be done to ensure every dollar received is spent in the classroom.

The Student Accountability and Information System (SAIS) is an electronic system, which will be put in place to allow the state to track expenditures and performance data and keep in compliance with state academic standards. Failing schools will be defined and graduated penalties for unacceptable progress will be established.

Our challenge is to pass Prop 301. It provides the best opportunities for public education in over a decade, and Arizona students deserve the best. Our children are depending on us. A bad national ranking is one thing, but limiting the lives and opportunities of our children is something entirely different. Please help us make this dream a reality. Together let's change the picture of Arizona's children and Arizona's future. Vote "Yes" on Prop 301 on Nov. 7.

(Kristi M. Fredrickson is President of Williams Education Association. Bonnie Dent was recently named Arizona Small and Rural Schools Association’s Coconino County Teacher of the Year.)

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