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9:01 AM Tue, Nov. 13th

Steady funding for education or funding for now?

InvestinEd movement still a must in order to infuse schools with needed dollars for the future

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The elementary-grade wisdom of the storybook, “The Little Engine that Could,” is one area educators suggest needs to prevail when it comes to revamping the InvestinEd movement — optimism driving the pro-education train over a mountain of naysayers to find a permanent source of funding public schools.

“Where is the dedicated funding source to support education? That is the huge question,” said Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter, a former state Board of Education president. “Ultimately, Arizona is going to have to find an answer.”

As in the story, thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff in the spring stepped away from their day-to-day, behind-the-scene business of instructing children to tackle the state power structure. They pushed aside the discomfort of the public spotlight to fight for those who depend upon them.

Obstacles aside, this seemingly ill-suited “train” of educators and advocates had much to celebrate after more than a week of protests, walk-ins and walk-outs. They pressured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, now seeking re-election, to leverage a 20 percent teacher salary hike over a three-year period. The move backed by the Legislature was hailed as a key step in halting the exodus of highly qualified teachers from the profession.

It, too, was seen as the kick-start for putting public education at the top of this state’s priority list so that Arizona can recruit top talent and graduate students able to compete with their peers across the country and around the globe.

“And I’m not unthankful. I am absolutely thankful,” Carter said of what was a giant political step for the education community. “But math is a pretty exact science … Where is that money coming from and what do we do beyond that date?”

The #RedForEd architects wrestled with the same question.

With the little train still speeding uphill, some of the leaders in the #RedForEd movement morphed the effort into what is now known as InvestInEd. These gung ho advocates drafted a proposed law and gathered petitions to put a proposition on the November ballot. They saw it as an equitable way to pump some $690 million into the state’s educational coffers to cover more than just salaries.

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Resistance was swift.

The ballot proposition was deemed to be an unfair taxing mechanism that would harm the economy, not only imposing a higher percentage tax on wealthier individuals but impacting small businesses in ways that would be detrimental to all. The proposed tax increase was 8 percent rather than the cap of just below 5 percent for individuals earning $250,000 or more and households earning $500,000 or more. There were also concerns about how this would impact the state’s existing property tax indexes.

Even some #RedForEd advocates flinched at the implications of this ballot measure.

The Arizona Supreme Court had the final say last week — the answer was “No.”

Carter was not surprised. He, though, does not want to see the train teeter at the top of the hill. The very future of public education in Arizona hangs in the balance, Carter and fellow educators said.

“This was rejected for a legal reason, or it was rejected for political reasons. That notwithstanding, the issue remains the same: What is the long term plan to fund K-12 in Arizona?” Carter queried.

Granite Mountain math/science teacher Emma Gifford in Prescott, one of the district’s #RedForEd liaisons, said she finds the court ruling, one that cannot be appealed, to be an “utter outrage.”

Be that as it may, Gifford and fellow educators say their lament over the outcome of this initiative cannot stymie action to seek a new funding solution — it must happen.

“It is imperative, now more than ever, that those most invested in public education — parents, teachers, students of voting age, and concerned citizens, know their candidates and vote in November. We must play the long game to remove incumbents who have time and time again worked against public education and vote for those that keep putting public education at the forefront of our democracy … Our teachers and students deserve it.”

Yavapai County community organizer and educational advocate Rosemary Agneesens said the initiative was born out of frustration. Educators in this state are tired of waiting for the politicians to do what is necessary to fulfill the Arizona Constitution that requires state funding of public schools.

“We have starved our schools for years and nothing has happened,” she said.

Several area superintendents admit the InvestinEd initiative may have had some flaws. Still, it was the first attempt in a state that for too long has allowed the funding of public schools to be at the whim of economics and politics, they said.

“What I am excited about was the effort … teachers got together and did something,” said Chino Valley Unified District Superintendent John Scholl. “They organized, came up with a vision and went ahead and accomplished it.”

Scholl and others said they do not want this defeat to doom the movement.

“We need to find a dedicated funding source that will pass legal muster and that the voters and taxpayers in Arizona will support,” Carter concluded.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.

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