Regarding the recent letter signed by a number of Flagstaff-area educators (“Flagstaff teachers push back on Chamber's invite,” May 2) that called into question the motives and mission of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we believe a response is deserved.
Everything the Arizona Chamber does related to education policy is intended to increase funding to schools and to increase teacher pay. Our record is clear.
The Arizona Chamber supported the original passage of Proposition 301, which established a .6 percent sales tax for education. We then supported the 20-year extension of the sales tax, which the Legislature passed and the governor signed in 2018.
During the depths of the recession, when all parts of state government were being slashed, we supported the passage of Proposition 100 to establish a temporary one-cent sales tax to prevent even deeper cuts to education.
We were the business community’s leading advocate for the successful adoption by voters of Proposition 123, which will result in $3.5 billion going to K-12 over the course of a decade by increasing the disbursement from the State Land Trust to schools.
We strongly supported the 2018 budget package that included a 20% average statewide pay raise for K-12 teachers by school year 2020, and we support the continued restoration of District Additional Assistance, which schools can use for a range of reasons, including to increase teacher pay. These two investments alone totaled $1 billion in new and restored K-12 funding.
The Chamber is also the business community’s most vocal and consistent advocate for Career and Technical Education to help equip more high-school graduates with the skills to succeed in high-demand fields. We championed the restoration of CTE funding when it was cut, and this year we’ve made passage of HB 2657 a top priority. The bill would establish a grant program for community colleges engaged in training students in high-wage, in-demand fields like manufacturing, technology, and financial services.
Another round of education funding is proposed in Governor Ducey’s proposed FY 2020 budget including more than $50 million in targeted higher education funding and expansion of a program to recognize high poverty schools closing the achievement gap.
Investments of this size are only possible thanks to a thriving economy. If the economy contracts, so does funding for core government functions like education.
That’s why the Chamber in 2018 opposed Proposition 207, which sought nearly to double the income tax on small businesses. The measure included zero dollars for Northern Arizona University or any other higher learning institution. It would have been a severe drag on the Arizona economy and, as a result, would mean fewer dollars for education, not more. You can’t deliver 20% pay raises when the economy and the state general fund is shrinking, nor can you count on $500 million from the Proposition 301 sales tax. What’s worse, the description of the initiative presented to voters was also sloppily assembled and terribly misleading. The Supreme Court agreed and wisely removed it from the ballot.
Arizona now is home to one of the fastest-growing state economies in the country. There is broad, bipartisan support for adopting a budget that continues the implementation of the 20% pay raise and the restoration of additional assistance.
Arizona is on the right track. That’s in no small part due to the tremendous work of Arizona teachers, who have helped make Arizona one of the biggest climbers for academic achievement in the nation. We in the business community will continue to pursue policies that ensure we have the resources our teachers deserve.