The Arizona legislature approved a nearly $ 13 billion state budget that included a massive tax cut, but mostly rejected calls from education advocates to increase funds for public schools .
The income tax cut could translate into a windfall of $ 350,000 for the state’s wealthiest residents, but also wiped out a voter-approved proposal that would have produced around $ 1 billion a year for K-12 schools.
All District 4 Representatives – Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson), Rep. Walt Blackman (R-Show Low) and Senator Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff) supported the income tax cut by nearly ‘a billion dollars. The measure was passed in a straight-line vote, but it would take a two-thirds vote for lawmakers to raise the income tax rate in the future.
The tax cut effectively nullified Proposition 208, which would have imposed a 3.5% income tax surtax on taxpayers earning more than $ 250,000, or $ 500,000 for a couple – leaving the state with a maximum rate close to 8%.
The new rate structure will have a maximum rate of 3.5% for high income earners, with part going into the general fund instead of education. Most other taxpayers will pay 2.5% up to income of $ 27,272 and 2.98% above. The 3.5% rate will apply to income of approximately $ 250,000. Most taxpayers will see a small reduction in their taxes, but higher income taxpayers could save $ 350,000.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have barely rejected a massive expansion of private school vouchers, which divert taxpayer dollars to private schools. Voters had previously rejected a similar expansion by a two-to-one margin.
Currently, some 10,000 students receive vouchers worth an average of $ 11,000 to attend private school or home school, costing taxpayers more than $ 100 million per year. The bill would have expanded eligibility to approximately 720,000 students. The program was intended to give parents an alternative to leaving their children in failing schools, but most of the money went to parents in wealthy neighborhoods with private schools nearby. Parents in rural districts generally have few private schools to choose from. The program has also been plagued by allegations of abusive spending and investigations showing that some parents have accumulated $ 100,000 or more in their accounts.
The bill first died in the House, but was later passed by the Senate as an addition to the final budget bill. In the House, the bill came back as an endorsement in the education budget bill and then became a full bill at the last minute. Three moderate Republicans hesitated and he died on a 28-28 vote in the House. The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled.
Rim Country representatives supported the extension of the vouchers to any student whose family is entitled to free and discounted school meals and children of veterans. Advocates of the empowerment scholarship accounts argue that the program saves money because the vouchers actually pay parents a little less than the state pays district public schools. District school officials say this argument overlooks the fixed costs districts still face as enrollments decline.
Overall, education advocates have failed to convince lawmakers to take advantage of a surplus of more than $ 2 billion to catch up on public education, with the latest studies showing that spending per student are among the lowest in the country. Arizona teachers have the lowest salaries in the country and the largest classes.
Arizona spends about $ 8,000 per student on K-12 education, about 50% less than the national average, making the state 49th out of 50 states. Education spending in Arizona accounts for 2.53% of state taxpayer income, compared to 3.6% in Texas, 3.2% in California, 3.7% in New Mexico, 4.8% in Massachusetts and 5.6% in Alaska, according to figures from the US Census Bureau.
Arizona ranked among the least educated states in a recent ranking on the Wallet Hub website – ranking 36th out of 50. The rating took into account things like college graduation rates. secondary, university attendance rates and the percentage of the workforce with advanced degrees. It also measured the quality of the education system, which included things like test scores. Arizona ranked 33rd in “level of education” and 38th in “quality of education”.
The state has received billions in federal grants this year to deal with the pandemic, but sales tax and income tax revenues have proven to be much more resilient than originally expected.
The state has actually cut education funding by nearly $ 400 million this year due to a drop in public school enrollment of some 50,000 students during the pandemic. Many parents have transferred their children to private schools or to homes.
The governor’s budget for the coming fiscal year restored some of this lost funding, mainly to support additional temporary programs to help students offset learning losses caused by the switch to distance learning.
The budget also pushed school choice programs, with a $ 500,000 marketing campaign to encourage students to explore public charter schools, private schools, online programs and other “choice” options. “. The budget also includes grants to help cover transportation costs for parents who choose not to send their children to public schools.
Expect more from Arizona, an education advocacy group, said the budget passed was for most programs promoted by supporters of public education. Some of the programs include:
• $ 7 million for third grade literacy, funded by federal grants.
• $ 5 million for vocational classes for first year high school students, out of the $ 10 million needed.
• $ 14 million for rural community colleges, of the $ 21 million requested.
• $ 7.5 million for university promise scholarships, out of the $ 50 million requested.
• $ 1.3 million to cover the cost of advanced course fees through which high school students can earn college credit.
• Elimination of $ 7.5 million requested for preschool development grants.
• Some $ 30 million to repay $ 930 million owed to K-12 education following the carry-over of year-to-year funding that the Legislature used to help balance the state budget during the recession.
• $ 7.5 million for community colleges for back-to-work scholarships.
• $ 50 million for special education.
• $ 1 million for the education of the gifted.
• $ 68 million in permanent funds and $ 33 million in one-time funds for universities, which is still below the $ 165 million requested under the New Economy Initiative.