July 15, 2020
By Matt Beienburg
Should Arizona taxpayers spend $900 million for…nothing? Well, according to Arizona’s largest teacher’s union, the Arizona Education Association (AEA), it seems the answer is Yes.
The AEA is pushing heavily for its InvestinEd plan to raise taxes on Arizonans and increase the costs of, and spending on, the state’s K-12 system to the tune of nearly $1 billion. But according to union math, it seems taxpayers, teachers, and students would be better off flushing down those dollar bills as COVID-scarce toilet paper.
How’s that, you wonder? Well, according to the union’s latest InvestinEd campaign fundraising effort:
“In 2018 the Red for Ed movement started in Arizona, sparking a national wave of meaningful education funding reforms. Except in Arizona. Arizona educators, parents, and concerned volunteers have waited years for action from their leaders and got nothing.”
Assuming that this “nothing” includes the annual $650 million that Arizona lawmakers authorized for 20% teacher pay raises, plus an additional $370 million a year in K-12 funding restorations, it seems hard to conclude anything other than that $650 million + $370 million = $0…?
Either the AEA assumes Arizonans have already forgotten how much they just pledged in funding increases for K-12, or else the union thinks it’s a good idea to tell taxpayers we all just wasted a billion dollars but are morally required to give another. Or perhaps the union is simply being honest that no amount of funding increases will satisfy until we reach the levels of, say, New York, where per pupil spending exceeds $26,000 a year and yet 8th grade math outcomes are nearly identical to Arizona’s.
But maybe the union means only that the truckloads of additional funding are merely funding “increases” that don’t count as the “reforms” they asked for. Well, let’s queue the news from 2018. As reported in the Arizona Republic at the time: “The grassroots group that started the state’s #RedForEd movement…announced a list of demands of Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature before thousands of educators and supporters at a rally Wednesday at the Capitol. The top demand: 20 percent raises for the state’s teachers.” It’s hard to argue that RedforEd got anything other than exactly what it most sought.
But while dragging back the goalposts and denying basic numerical realities may be the union’s specialty, perhaps they deserve credit for artificially pushing those goals up when it suits them. In the same InvestinEd fundraising push, the AEA announces that “We need $500,000 this week. Will you do your part?” But lest their contributors be discouraged that the effort raised only about $2,000 (or roughly 0.5% of their goal), the union’s graphic wizards subtlety suggest they’re nearly halfway there. All it took was leaving off a pair of zeroes from the $500,000 target in the bar chart (see below).
Whether sloppy or cynical, the advertising goofs of the AEA are ultimately not important. But when the same minds that care little for forthrightness on such a small scale tell us they’ve calculated just the right number of hundreds of millions of dollars of funding increases they need at large, perhaps voters can be forgiven for looking on their plans with just a hint of skepticism.
Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.