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Fri, Feb. 21

Column: Do you favor the Quality Education and Jobs Act (Proposition 204)? - Pro

Before voting on Proposition 204, the Quality Jobs and Education measure, everyone should ask themselves a fundamental question.

Has the Legislature adequately funded education?

The proposed act, which would provide between $700 million and $1 billion per year to the Department of Education, would do so by reviving a 1 percent sales tax that is set to expire next year. The money would bypass the Legislature and be distributed among the state's schools at all levels. In addition, it would mandate funding for infrastructure, provide health insurance coverage for needy children and aid in the stability of impoverished families.

Arguments against the measure focus on a couple of targets. One is that the sales tax extension would amount to a tax increase. In fact, Proposition 204 would replace money that was intended for education when voters approved it three years ago, before lawmakers hijacked much of it to meet other needs. This time, proponents of education have made sure that can't happen by specifically dedicating where the money will go and that it can't fall victim to legislators' infamous "sweeps." Sales taxes will not increase under Proposition 204; they will remain where they are today.

The other objection is to an alleged lack of accountability that accompanies the proposed money, that how it will be spent within the K-12 system is not defined.

Under the current funding structure, lawmakers have the authority to tell schools, in detail, how they can spend their money. For years, Arizona has fallen far below the national average in educational spending and outcomes. Now is the time to leave the decisions to those on the front lines rather than to politicians more eager to garner votes than to provide for students. Proposition 204 contains, as do the other sources of school funding, outcome-based provisions for continued payments.

As to the question: Lawmakers have raided the money intended for schools often enough to create a pattern. For example, the Prescott Unified School District has experienced more than $5 million in cuts in recent budget cycles.

Those who analyze school finances estimate that a successful Proposition 204 will add about $600, or more than 10 percent, to the annual amount the state provides for each student. That is far more than anyone can expect from our current roster of lawmakers.

It's a dire truth that education needs help. This time around, voters can provide that help by approving Proposition 204.

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