Ahwatukee State Rep. Jill Norgaard has been leading a series of discussions among her Republican colleagues aimed at tightening the expenditure of funds collected through the 0.6 percent sales tax that goes to education.
Prop 301, which created the tax when voters approved it in 2000, has been discussed in numerous circles lately because some advocates, including Superintendent of Public Education Diane Douglas, want the tax made permanent and increased to a full 1 percent to help fund teacher pay raises.
The tax is currently set to die in 2021, and will likely be put on the ballot for renewal next year or in 2020.
The House Republicans’ communications office last week issued a news release summarizing some of the major themes of the discussions that Norgaard has been leading and said a full report will be issued this week.
The tax generates more than $600 million for education annually, but Norgaard pointed out that not all that money goes to K-12 education.
According to the state Treasurer’s Office, last year the tax generated $667.5 million and about $384 million went to schools.
Of the remainder, $72.4 million went to community colleges, $64 million went to pay off bonds the state School Facilities Board issued in 2002 to pay for school repairs throughout Arizona, $86 million underwrote five extra school days, $72.4 million went to the three state universities for technology and research, $18 million went to tribal colleges.
The rest was spent on school safety, the state Department of Education’s accountability operations, school safety and state programs to help failing schools.
Norgaard said her committee wanted “to analyze what the distribution was set up for 20 years ago, and what changes, if any, to the distributions would be needed.”
“If you ask most people what they think Proposition 301 money goes towards, most will say it all goes to teacher salary and classrooms. That is, in fact, not the case,” she said.
In fact, she asserted “the classroom site fund is not only not the first bucket but it is the last.”
“The initial distribution is either a fixed percent – like university dollars at 11 percent – or a fixed number, like $8 million for school safety,” Norgaard said
“After the fixed percentages and amounts are paid, the last item is classroom funds,” she added. “I believe any new authorization should make this the first priority and hence, the impetus to get the conversation and discussion in the works.”
For example, she said, should any of the money go toward school repairs? If not, she said, it could be diverted to increasing teacher pay.
She said there may be other ways to pay for repairs and new school construction other than issuing bonds and repaying them through Prop 301 money.
She noted that 13 percent of money collected annually financed the additional classroom days when the school calendar was increased from 175 to 180 days of instruction.
If the renewal of the tax were to be voted down in the next referendum, she said, “are we going to reduce the school year?”
“These kinds of meetings need to be happening so that policymakers and the public can get educated on the stakes of a potential renewal,” Norgaard said.
“It’s important that we know the issue so that when the renewal conversation does occur, we are making sound, educated decisions.”
Moreover, she said, “If the tax is not renewed, there would be a few holes in school funding that the state General Fund would have to cover, such as the five additional school days that Prop 301 pays for every year.”
And, she added, “Any renewal also ought to align with current state priorities, such as the teacher shortage. Any renewal and changes must be used to ensure we have enough quality educators to cover every classroom.”