August 20, 2020
By Matt Beienburg
Arizona stands at a crossroads: we can channel our resources into improving the academic outcomes of our students, or in bloating a K-12 bureaucracy. But we can’t do both.
Just weeks ago, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge threw the “InvestinEd” tax initiative off the ballot, finding that its petition circulators had been illegally paid to collect voter signatures and that the initiative’s official 100-word summary—which voters will use to inform their decision about whether or not to support the measure—failed to disclose several of the initiative’s less appealing side-effects as required by law.
Yet the Arizona Supreme Court has apparently determined that regardless of its deficiencies, the measure’s official ballot summary language no longer qualifies as outright illegal (as it did the last time the court threw out the initiative in 2018). As a result, InvestinEd will return to the ballot, and Arizona voters will face the prospect of a billion-dollar tax increase this fall—one which will harm small businesses and hamper the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19, all without delivering meaningful reform or improvement to student success.
Indeed, InvestinEd will launch Arizona to new heights—not by boosting academic outcomes, but rather by catapulting the state into the top 10 highest taxing states in the nation. In a time when over 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed across the nation and Americans are looking to emerge from the economic devastation of COVID-19, tax increases are the last thing we need to be piling on to bring back jobs and economic activity.
Perhaps worse than the purely economic toll InvestinEd would impose on the state of Arizona, however, would be its role in further relegating our students to the backseat. Notice that in a time when parents are scrambling to find learning opportunities for their children—amid widespread campus closures—InvestinEd would send Arizona’s economic resources not to the aid of students or their families, but to those on district payrolls. And all this is on top of the (highest in the nation) 20% teacher pay raises Arizonans already agreed to pay in 2018 (which combined with other increases authorized that year, themselves come out to more than a billion of additional funding for K-12 every year).
If the architects of InvestinEd truly want to support our students, they should be championing efforts that truly transform student learning, not simply make it more expensive. They should celebrate initiatives like Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, which has lifted up thousands of the state’s most vulnerable students by directing funding directly to their families.
Instead, the union organizers behind InvestinEd have crafted an economically damaging, academically hollow plan, which—thanks to the laws governing Arizona’s initiative process—will be virtually impossible for the state’s elected representatives to adjust or redeem in the future. It’s now up to Arizona voters to stop it.
Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.