Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed into law a bill that extends for 20 years a sales tax that brings in about $667 million a year to schools in the state.
The Arizona Republic reports that Republican legislative leaders fast-tracked the proposal last week after more than a month of legislative inaction and weeks of vocal protests from teachers demanding higher wages.
The 0.6-cent sales tax, which voters approved in 2000, was set to expire in mid-2021 if voters or the Legislature didn't act.
The proposal doesn't give the state's public schools and universities any additional funding, or increase the tax rate in any way. But it extends the rate through 2041 and shuffles how some of the money will be distributed.
“Since schools throughout the state rely so heavily on Prop 301 revenues, the funding is essentially baked into their respective budgets," says Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. "Now that this extension has been passed, I am committed more than ever to increasing teacher salaries and finding new revenue streams for education as quickly as possible.”
The money will help pay for teacher salaries, classroom expenses, dropout prevention, building maintenance, universities and community colleges.
There has been wide support among education and business advocates for extending and even increasing the sales tax — viewed by many as a crucial step toward restoring hundreds of millions of dollars of education-funding cuts following the 2008 recession.
The Senate bill passed 26-4. The House bill passed 53-6..
Under the legislation, about $64 million that now goes to the state's School Facilities Board to finish paying off debt will be redirected to the Classroom Site Fund, which can go toward teacher salaries.
The majority of the funding is to be allocated this way: Classroom Site Fund: $384.3 million; public universities: $72.4 million: School Facilities Board debt service: $64.1 million;
Because this new measure is approved by the legislature instead of voters, future legislatures will be able to more easily change the tax rate or where the money goes.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who is also president of the Pendergast Elementary School District board, says lawmakers should not be celebrating the passage of this bill.
"We shouldn't go home tonight and feel like we've accomplished something," he says. "All we've done is extended the status quo in our schools. And right now, the status quo in public education in Arizona is absolutely horrible."