Flagstaff public education advocates are going for the money, and more of it.
Some 50 Flagstaff educators, high school students, business leaders and government officials met at an Arizona Town Hall community meeting on Sunday.
The group recommended renewing and expanding Proposition 301 to a full one-cent tax and using the money to help support an increases in teacher pay and other programs. The tax expires in 2020.
“We need a source of education funding that is independent of the Legislature,” said Nat White, the representative of one of the 10 small focus groups created at the event.
Because Prop. 301 is a voter initiative, it would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Arizona Legislature to change it.
Prop. 301 was passed by voters in 2000 and increased the state sales tax by 0.6 percentage points to 5.6 percent. The money from the increase was earmarked for public education. According to Expect More Arizona, the current tax brings in more than $640 million annually, with about $500 million going to K-12 education. About $364 million of that $500 million goes to the Classroom Site Fund, which is distributed to school districts and charter schools to help fund teacher pay, performance incentives and general maintenance and operations.
A number of education support groups, including Expect More Arizona, have recommended renewing the tax. The organization estimates that increasing it to 1 percent would generate an additional $400 million a year, and increasing it to 1.6 percent would bring in an additional $1 billion per year. All state subsidies to K-12 public education, including Prop. 301, total about $4.4 billion a year.
In order to have a strong education system, said one attendee, the state needs good teachers and the facilities to create a learning environment for students. In order to attract good teachers, Arizona needs to increase teacher pay and reduce the workload that teachers carry with more volunteers and teachers aids.
The town hall attendees also recommended a marketing campaign that would educate the public, especially those residents who don’t have children, and businesses on the importance of a good education on the workforce in Arizona and the state’s economy.
In order to make sure that the funds are spent wisely, the group suggested a review of current education funding sources and how the money is spent.
The Flagstaff group also recommended encouraging the public and businesses to volunteer more in the classroom and for schools to hire more teachers’ aides to reduce the workload on teachers and give them more opportunities for self-improvement.
Schools should also talk with local businesses and citizens about what skills students need to get jobs after graduation and what kind of businesses that the community wants to attract to the area. Businesses can help by providing students with hands-on-experience through internships and apprenticeships.
The group also agreed that the state testing system needed to be reviewed to make sure that it was addressing the whole student and not just proficiency in two subjects. Students need to understand how the standardized tests apply to them in the real world, said Ryan Howington, a high school student who attended the event.
Individually, attendees pledged to talk to their neighbors about the importance of education and what events and programs were going on in the schools in order to generate more interest in schools. Others said they would attend school board meetings, campaign and vote for candidates that supported school funding, work with their student council and school administrators to educate students about the situation and thank one teacher a day for their work or tutor a student in math.
Susan Imel said she would work to get more people registered to vote in order to support initiatives such as Save Our Schools. Save Our Schools gathered enough signatures to put the Arizona Legislature’s recent expansion of the state’s private school voucher program on the ballot.
Ed. Note: This story has been changed from the original.