by David Safier
I haven't written much about the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative to renew the one cent sales tax, which will mainly be used to fund education, because it's fairly complex and I didn't want to get it wrong. So I sat down with Ann-Eve Pedersen, one of the driving forces behind the initiative, to get my facts straight.
Bottom line: It's a terrific initiative which will improve funding for Arizona education and help in some other areas as well.
Below are answers to the kinds of questions I was most curious about. There are other items in the initiative, but I'm paring this down to the essentials, and even at that, it's reasonably complicated.
What will the Initiative cost me in new taxes?
Nothing. There will be no new taxes connected with the initiative. It's simply a renewal of the one cent sales tax which was passed in 2010.
Where will the money from the initiative go?
During the first year, 78% of the money will be used for education and education-related funding. Over 10 years, that number will rise to 81%.
What will stop the legislature from using the money to plug holes in the budget instead of increasing funding for education?
The initiative won't allow the funds to get lost in the state funding pool. The state will be required to fund schools at the current 2011-2012 levels or higher. That's the floor. Money from the initiative will go on top of that.
What will that mean in added funding per student?
Per student funding will go up between $500 and $625.
Isn't $500 to $650 a big increase?
Not for Arizona. We're at the bottom of per student funding nationwide, and $500 to $650 doesn't move us very far. According to the NEA 2010-11 estimates, Arizona spent $6,448 per student. The national average was $10,770. The initiative money will boost us past Utah, but states like Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee -- to name a few states with low per student funding -- will still be outspending us by between $1,000 and $2,000 per student. [Note: Different organizations calculate per student funding differently, but Arizona is always at or near the bottom.]
Will some schools get more money than others?
No. This basic $500 to $650 per student increase is non-weighted. It's based only on student population. All district schools and charters will get the same increase per student.
Does more initiative money go to education beyond the $500 to $650 per student?
Yes. The basic per student funding uses about half the money generated by the one cent sales tax. Other funds from the initiative are dedicated to educational accountability and improvement. JTED (career and technical education) will get funding. So will GED programs, community colleges and universities.
Are there any non-education uses?
Yes. KIDS Care health insurance funds will be restored. Infrastructure -- highways, roads, etc. -- will get some funding as well.
That's the basics. I tried to keep it relatively simple. You can read about the initiative to your heart's content on the Arizona Education Network. (At the top of the AEN web page, you can sign up for their newsletter or join them on Facebook, etc.) [UPDATE: Or go to the source, the Quality Education and Jobs website.]