With a slim margin of less than 2%, Proposition 123, the initiative which allows for additional money to be used from the state land trust for education, has passed. This will allow more money to be given to schools for the next ten years, giving lawmakers time to come up with a permanent solution.
Political leaders in both parties were largely supportive of Prop 123 - including it’s biggest supporter Governor Doug Ducey and his former Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, Fred DuVal. Pro-123 advocates spent around $5M to support the measure. Their position was that the land trust could afford to make extra payments for a period of time and get much needed money to schools immediately. Pro-123 advocates also pointed to the fact that this measure settles the lawsuit that had already cost the state millions and could potentially cost the state even more.
Treasurer Jeff DeWit was one person who publicly stood up against Prop 123. DeWit was concerned that the measure would take too much money from the principle of the land trust, leaving it depleted after the ten years was up. DeWit’s position was joined by all past state treasurers still alive, except for Governor Ducey. The Arizona League of Women Voters also opposed the measure. On the other side of the political spectrum, many education advocates were against Prop 123, because they felt it did not provide enough money. DeWit frequently pointed out that by raiding the land trust money, “This is not more money for education, this is ’sooner’ money for education." The anti-123 group spent just $16K in addition to the miles DeWit put on his vehicle in order to advocate against the bill.
State Superintendent Diane Douglas chose not to advocate for either side, instead urging people to carefully consider and understand the legislation before voting.
Once again, Yavapai County had the largest voter turnout percentage in the state - the only county at 42.1%. The next highest county turnout was Pima with 37.5%. Ironically, the majority of voters in each of these counties voted ‘No’. The only other county to vote against the measure was Coconino (30.6% turnout). Maricopa County, with just 30.2% turnout, had a margin of 20K votes in the ‘Yes’ column which propelled the final victory. The average turnout for the entire state was only 30.9%
What happens now?
If all goes as planned, an immediate cash infusion will be delivered to the schools now, with more money for the next fiscal year.
However, there have been some questions about whether the principle of the land trust can be spent without Congressional approval at the federal level. Treasurer DeWit received a legal opinion from the Cantelme & Brown law firm stating that,
“…An amendment to the Distribution Formula, if passed by the voters at the special election, cannot become effective until and unless Congress revises the Enabling Act to approve the amendment. Congress established the Trust in the Enabling Act, and the Act’s terms bind the State of Arizona and overrule any part of the Arizona Constitution or Arizona laws that conflict with such terms."
Michael Pierce, from Phoenix, already filed a federal lawsuit challenging Prop 123 on the basis of the Enabling Act, which set up the state land trust before Arizona became a state. However, Congress passed legislation in 1999 to allow Arizona to change the way it invested the fund, and some say that change will allow the provisions of Prop 123 to be carried out.
In his State of the State address, Governor Ducey said that Prop 123 is “…a first step - a big first step - but not our only step to improve public education in Arizona… We know spending is not the measure of success. And it shouldn’t just be about the billions of dollars we are putting into public education; it must be about what our kids are getting out of their education.”
A new coalition sponsored by the Arizona Education Association, called Prop 123 Go!, is advocating for even more public funding, "we must hold politicians accountable to support the funding our schools need and our students deserve. We must increase and stabilize funding for public education so our children go to school in clean classrooms, with up-to-date textbooks and technology, and with smaller class sizes; we can attract and retain the best teachers and give them the resources they need; and we can restore full-day kindergarten so all children have the same opportunity starting their formal public education.”
Statement From Governor Doug Ducey On Proposition 123
PHOENIX – “The votes have been counted and the result is clear. This is a huge victory for public education in Arizona. After years of lawsuits and fighting, we are moving forward and funding our teachers, students and schools – instead of lawyers.
“Thanks to the voters, schools will soon see a cash infusion, with billions of new dollars flowing in the years ahead. This will make the difference in the lives of kids and teachers all across this state, and that can’t be understated. These are the resources educators have been telling us they need, and by coming together and working together, we were able to make it happen.
“Many said we should have waited until November, when passage would have been easier. Special election turnout presents unique challenges, and this is certainly the most difficult political environment anyone can recall. However, the schools needed money now, so we took the harder path because it was the right thing to do. I’m gratified that it paid off, with a majority saying yes, and now schools will see funds as early as next month.
“I want to thank all the teachers, parents, education champions, business leaders and elected leaders on both sides of the aisle who worked tirelessly to advocate for this proposition. This was truly a broad, bipartisan coalition that brought individuals together who don’t always agree. While this campaign is over, that spirit should live on in all we do, especially when it comes to education.”
Statement from Superintendent Douglas on Proposition 123’s Passage
Phoenix, Ariz., May 19, 2016) – Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas this evening released the following statement on the passage of Proposition 123.
“I am pleased that Proposition 123’s passage will mean more money for Arizona schools. While it will provide less money than I had initially requested as part of my AZ Kids Can’t Wait! plan last September, I hope this vote serves as a first step as we work together to improve education in our state.
“Although nothing in the proposition’s language requires them to do so, I also hope our administrators and governing boards will do everything they can to ensure that this money gets to our classroom teachers either in the form of salary increases or classroom size reduction.”