Sunday, August 2, 2015

It's August:Fund Arizona Schools by Rep. Eric Meyer, M.D., Legislative District 28

It's August in Arizona. The monsoon season signals the beginning of the end of summer; it also marks the beginning of a new school year.

It is easy to be discouraged by the education news -- per student spending is the lowest in the nation, Maricopa County alone has 1000 vacant teaching positions, and our high school graduation rate is just 75 percent. Our governor continues to fight the voter approved and court-ordered inflation funding due our schools while advocating for the building of a new private prison in Arizona.

But there is reason for optimism. Nearly all Arizonans agree that our state's K-12 education needs more funding. Most understand the relationship between a well-educated workforce and a robust economy.  

The fiscal year ended June 30 with $458 million in the state's rainy day fund.  There is also an extra $250 million in revenue that exceeded budget projections. These total $708 million real dollars that could be directed to our public schools now. 

Another reason for optimism is that more people understand that the tax credit programs for both private and public schools are siphoning $190 million from the General Fund that could be better used in classrooms throughout the state. These tax credit programs offer taxpayers dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations to private school tuition funds and to extracurricular programs in public schools.

At the very least, School Tuition Organizations deserve better scrutiny. The tax credit program they administer began in 1999 to help poor and disabled students attend private schools; over the years, the program has expanded well beyond that original mission. Current state law allows STOs to keep 10 percent of what they raise for private school tuition, and that is wrong. It has been well publicized that State Sen. Steve Yarbrough's Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization collected nearly $17 million in tax-credit donations last year, which means that Arizona taxpayers paid his STO $1.7 million, just to administer scholarships to students attending religious-based private schools.   Read Editorial in 7/29/15 Arizona Republic.  

The governor's plan for additional K-12 revenue is to tap the state land trust fund, at least temporarily. It is a complicated, uncertain and inadequate plan, however, and there are other sources of revenue available now.

As we look to the new legislative session and the coming elections in 2016, it will be up to us to keep education funding and the well being of Arizona's children at the top of our state's list of priorities. Revenue sources are available. There are different choices to be made.  I have faith in Arizona's voters. Given the opportunity, they will support candidates whose vision includes the restoration of education funding to levels that ensure all of Arizona's children have the opportunity to succeed in school and become productive members of communities across our state.

Thank you for your continued support.     

Rep. Eric Meyer, M.D., Legislative District 28
Minority Leader, Arizona State House of Representatives