The Misplaced Priorities of the Prop 204 Campaign
By Byron Schlomach
When the Prop 204 campaign criticizes Arizona legislators for reducing education funding during the recession, they never explain what else legislators were supposed to do.
At the height of the recession state revenues had fallen by a third. With the money that was left, simple math shows that the legislature could not have maintained spending on education and social programs, which together make up 70 percent of the state budget. If they’d tried, it would have meant zeroing out prisons, the state legal system, State Parks, and several departments that protect public health. Even the 1-cent sales tax increase would not have prevented the closure of fundamental state agencies if the legislature had not reduced education and social service funding to some degree.
Even still, during the darkest days of the recession, school funding was only reduced by 5 percent.
By criticizing these reductions, Prop 204 supporters are implying that the legislature should have closed prisons, letting pedophiles roam free, shut down the Attorney General, leaving child support cases unsettled, and hurt kids by compromising recreation and public safety. Looking to the future, the legislature has wisely saved some money to avoid more budget reductions when the federal health care law fully kicks in and state health care costs skyrocket, but the Prop 204 campaign criticizes that, too.
The solution offered by the Prop 204 campaign is to permanently funnel $1 billion annually to schools with no strings attached. Here’s the irony. As education funding was reduced to cope with the recession, schools chose to direct less money to the classroom than ever before. They preferred to fire teachers than reduce the ranks of non-teachers on school payrolls. In 2011, only 55 cents of every education dollar was dedicated to classrooms.
When it comes to questioning priorities, I have to question those of the people running the Prop 204 campaign. Criticizing the legislature because they avoided letting pedophiles out on the street while rewarding with a billion-dollar blank check the very schools that fired teachers rather than bureaucrats sure seems backwards to me.
Goldwater Institute: The Myth of Education Cuts
East Valley Tribune: Census Shows Arizona School Districts Cut 10,000 Jobs