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Column: Arizona Town Hall recommends urgency and action on education funding

Paul Kulpinski is a participant in Arizona Town Hall's focus on Investing in Arizona's Education System and is the Partnership Director of LAUNCH Flagstaff.
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Paul Kulpinski is a participant in Arizona Town Hall's focus on Investing in Arizona's Education System and is the Partnership Director of LAUNCH Flagstaff.

For the last decade an education funding crisis has been quietly building in Arizona producing inequities and instability that are symptoms of a public education system under stress.

How will northern Arizona cultivate the workforce needed to create healthy, vibrant communities if we are unsuccessful in educating our children due to a lack of state investment?

While the solution is a shared responsibility, it is a state constitutional requirement for the Legislature to ensure a general and uniform public school system, paid for by taxation to ensure its proper maintenance and operation.

I was grateful to be among hundreds of Arizonans who recently participated in the 110th Arizona Town Hall three-day program and Community Town Halls across the state. Using a consensus-driven, problem-solving dialogue, we developed a comprehensive common-sense roadmap. Participants spanned vast political perspectives, yet we all shared one-common belief: Arizona must do better for our students.

That means advancing and supporting a variety of funding streams, investing heavily in teacher pay, uncovering the little known impacts of school choice, and seeking a more equitable distribution of funds to schools in rural areas and in other areas challenged by the funding system that no longer serves all children.

The Town Hall recommendations challenge Arizona to reverse the effects of a decade of budget cuts by providing additional one-time and annual investments, including:

  • A one-time investment of $1.3 billion to address existing deficiencies, including deferred maintenance;
  • A one-time investment of $343 million for new school construction and an annual investment of $250 million;
  • An additional $380 million annually to restore the capital funding formula;
  • An additional $900 million annually to bring teacher pay in line with the national median and
  • An additional $440 million annually to develop and implement state-funded pre-K and full-day Kindergarten.

Additional investments for teacher recruitment and retention, in-state tuition waivers, student loan repayment programs, early childhood education, community college workforce development programs, programs that serve higher need students and measures to reduce class size.

Funding streams that might be tapped to pay for such critical investments include:

  • Renew and expand Proposition 301 to provide for an incremental statewide sales tax of 1.5 percent (in lieu of current 0.6 percent);
  • Repeal limitations on Legislature-approved tax increases enacted pursuant to Proposition 108;
  • Modernize the basic formula for state funding of preK-12 education to level the playing field among different types of schools and diverse student populations;
  • Implement new uniform statewide property tax to provide an additional revenue;
  • Adjust the equalization formula to require all districts to levy the qualifying tax rate, which, if levied uniformly across the state, would generate nearly $200 million in additional funding on an annual basis;
  • Create potential revenue streams such as sales taxes on professional or other services, or excise taxes and
  • Close corporate tax loopholes.

Northern Arizona’s kids are counting on what we do today.

Arizonans are already mobilizing across the state. Read the report and contact your state lawmakers at azleg.gov/members. This next legislative session is critical in shaping northern Arizona’s future.

Paul Kulpinski, participant of the 110th Arizona Town Hall on Education Funding PreK-12. He has more than 12 years of experience in public education governance, policy and management. He currently serves as the Partnership Director of LAUNCH Flagstaff. More information is available at www.aztownhall.org

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