Despite flaws and potential risks, a ‘Yes’ vote on Prop. 123 makes sense

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Commentary by Diana Whittle

Do you still have your early ballot on the kitchen table? If so, take it out and put a checkmark in the “YES” box for Proposition 123, because this is that very controversial—very important—measure intended to benefit education, particularly grades K-12.

A “yes” vote increases the annual distribution from the permanent endowment fund of the State Land Trust from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent. Supporters estimate this will amount to $3.5 billion infused into school funding over the next 10 years.

Although school district employees are prohibited by law from endorsing legislation or making any comments, Mark Knight, assistant superintendent of the Kyrene district, did issue a fact sheet to explain the measure.

According to Knight’s data, if the proposition passes, Kyrene officials estimate their share of the additional payout would be $3.4 million a year—which would be almost immediately received, likely as early as June.

The district’s proposed plan is to spend the funds on compensation and instructional resources, but the final decision will be made by the Kyrene Governing Board, which is given the ultimate oversight.

Elsewhere in our area, the website “YesProp123.com” estimates that Tempe Elementary schools would gain more than $2.4 million a year; the Tempe Union High School District would benefit from about $3 million annually.

The site also lists endorsements from a long list of local supporters, including Moses Sanchez, a TUHSD board member, who offers this on-line comment:

“As a school board member of the TUHSD, I hear every day from community members, educators and parents who feel that our state has not made public education a priority. Finally, our state has made education a priority — and this is backed up with a smart, innovative plan to put a significant amount of new money into our schools.

“This means new dollars into our classrooms, new dollars for teacher salaries and new dollars for our children. Your taxes won’t increase, our state budget won’t suffer, and our schools will benefit. It’s the rational thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do for our children…”

History of Arizona’s state trust lands

For naysayers who think education has never been a priority in Arizona, a brief history on the origin of the state trust lands may prove useful.

When Arizona became a state in 1912, Congress granted lands to the state to help generate revenue primarily for K-12 education.  At this same time, George W. P. Hunt, who was governor, created a commission that was charged with making recommendations about the land granted by Congress.

The commission concluded that Arizona should not sell its trust land outright, as other states had done. Instead, it should put the lands to their “highest and best use.”

The commission also recommended the creation of a permanent State Land Department, which to this day manages the property that oversees what has become a long-term savings account for Arizona education.

The nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee projects that the land trust will increase in value by more than $1 billion over the next 10 years under Prop 123, which means Arizona can maintain the health of its trust to fund future generations of students, the way it was intended.

As for future generations of Arizona students, not only can the land trust continue to grow through the investment of the current funds, it can also grow through the sale of state lands.

Right now, Arizona has over 9.2 million acres of unsold trust land worth more than $70 billion backing up the current $5 billion trust. As lands are sold over the years, the proceeds will add to the fund, growing the available dollars for education as intended by the state’s founders.

Lawsuit settlement between state and local school districts

If Proposition 123 is adopted, the funding released from the land trust to local schools is intended to settle the lawsuit between the state legislature and school districts by restoring 75 percent of funding previously cut.

Also, an additional $50 million would be approved through the Legislature through the fiscal year 2020, and $75 million more would be approved from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2025.

While 90 percent of the estimated revenue gain from Proposition 123 would benefit K-12 education, the state’s colleges and universities also would receive a boost to their funding.

In summary, while Proposition 123 is not expected to fix all the state’s educational rankings or financial woes, it has the ability to bring a much-needed influx of cash into the system.

And, despite the many who pose valid and indeed well-intentioned objections to this approach, giving our kids’ education a lifesaving transfusion can’t be all bad.

 

Diana Whittle is a longtime contributor to Wrangler News, particularly relating to matters regarding education. She is a former public information officer for the city of Tempe, now employed in Glendale. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri along with an exemplary career in the field. We felt that Diana’s view of the complexities involving Prop. 123 was worth sharing with our readers.

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