- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Education advocates are keeping the heat on Gov. Doug Ducey to restore K-12 funding now that voters have approved a measure that pumps $3.5 billion into schools over ten years.

The backers said at a Capitol news conference Monday that even with Proposition 123’s passage, schools will still get $1.2 billion less a year than before the Great Recession. Joined in a coalition they’re calling AZ Schools Now, they called for steps to restore funding for textbooks and technology, building maintenance and teacher pay and development.

Julie Bacon, president-elect of the Arizona School Boards Association, said her group has emphasized that Proposition 123 was just a first step in addressing education funding problems.

“It was never intended to be a long term fix to fix Arizona funding issues,” Bacon said.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the Republican governor plans to meet with education advocates in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps in school funding. He said the first item on the agenda should be a discussion of a sales tax that expires in 2020 and currently provides nearly $450 million a year for schools. The tax was approved by voters as Proposition 301 in 2000.

Ducey has hailed the coalition of education and business groups that baked Proposition 123, which settled a lawsuit filed by schools over the Legislature’s failure to give annual inflation boosts as required by Proposition 301.

“Prop 301 will be part of that discussion,” Scarpinato said. “He wants to hear from the education community about what long-term investments in education should look like.”

Dana Wolfe Naimark, President of the Children’s Action Alliance, said education advocates will keep pushing for the governor and Legislature to come up with ways to restore cuts that have left the state’s public schools ranked 48th in funding nationally.

“We’re $1.2 billion down from our own history just before the recession,” Naimark said. “And that gap is hampering our success. It is truly holding our students behind, and not only that, keeping our workforce down and holding out economy behind.”

Scarpinato said using the state land trust to fund the inflation funding settlement in Proposition 123 and using much of the excess cash in a state surplus just for one-time uses “gives us a lot of options on talking about further investments in education.”

But he also noted that while voters want to invest in education, they also want to make sure the dollars are being used wisely.

Dick Foreman, president of the Arizona Business & Education Coalition, said the question for Legislature and governor are how to pay for increased school funding, especially since Ducey has promised annual tax cuts, not increases.

He said there’s plenty of revenue that’s been taken off the table by lawmakers, specifically in tax credits, and that a tax increase isn’t necessarily needed.

“The fact is that there is a lot of found money out there,” Foreman said. “I’m just saying you cannot look at this with the binding jacket of ‘it’s only going to be a tax increase.’ Maybe that will a part of that, maybe it won’t.”

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