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Groups lobby for, against Arizona initiative on tax for school funding

PHOENIX — An initiative that would increase funding for Arizona public schools through an income tax increase for high-earners is on the ballot this election.

Proposition 208, also known as Invest in Ed, proposes a 3.5% income tax surcharge on individuals making $250,000 a year and couples making $500,000.

Supporters estimate it would raise more than $900 million a year for public schools, while the Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates it would generate $825 million.

Opponents say the tax increase will hurt the economy and are concerned about how the money would be spent.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said the additional funds are needed since Arizona ranks toward the bottom for education spending compared to other states.

He also noted cuts made to education during the recession in 2008 have not been fully restored.

“That has led to a documented shortage of teachers willing to teach in Arizona schools,” Thomas said. “When you take the highest class sizes in the nation and you take some of the lowest teacher pay in the nation, you end up having people leave Arizona for other states or leave the classroom for other professions.”

Half of the money generated through the income tax surcharge would go to hire and raise salaries of teachers and classroom support staff, such as nurses and counselors.

A quarter of the money would go to hire and increase pay for student support services personnel, such as classroom aids and bus drivers.

Smaller portions would go toward expanding career and technical education programs for students as well as mentoring and retention programs for new teachers.

School funding has increased over the last few years, including a 20% pay increase for teachers. Thomas said that has helped, but it’s been a steady trend of not being able to hire new teachers.

“It’s an unsustainable situation. And so what we need to do is we need a significant infusion and an investment of dollars into our classroom,” he added. “That’s what Invest in Ed, Prop 208 does.”

Meanwhile, opponents worry about how Prop 208 would impact the state’s economy. The Goldwater Institute estimates the economic loss to be 124,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in state and local tax revenues over the course of 10 years.

Jaime Molera, chairman of No on 208, said the measure would also put Arizona in the top 10 highest tax states in the country. He’s concerned about how this would impact small business owners.

“And at a time when Arizona is going through this awful pandemic, to create one of the highest tax rates for our small businesses would just be devastating,” he said. “We need to do things that incentivize economic development and growth as we get out of this, not to do the opposite.”

He also worries there’s no accountability and assurance that the funds “would be going to things that are effective for academic achievement.”

Thomas disputes that, saying by law the dollars would be spent on teachers, counselors, aids, support services and career and technical education.

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