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Teachers plan to go to voters, not lawmakers, in search of more funding for public schools

Posted at 5:59 PM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 19:59:00-05

PHOENIX — 1,850 signs, one for each Arizona public school classroom without a certified teacher, greeted teachers and education advocates who came to Wesley Bolin Plaza at the state capitol to kick off Invest in Ed. A ballot initiative, supporters say will raise $940 million a year for K-12 classrooms.

"I'm here to represent our students and fight to fully fund public education in Arizona, " Kinora Hernandez, an academic advisor for students in grades K-5 said.

In 2016, Hernandez worked to get signatures for a similar ballot initiative in 2018 only to watch it get knocked off the ballot in court.

"I worked all summer long to get those signatures on the ballot," Hernandez said, " I was heartbroken when it was thrown off the ballot."

But Hernandez and several hundred of her fellow teachers are ready to try again. Not satisfied the legislature or the governor has done enough to fund public education.

In the first five years of the Ducey Administration, funding for public education increased by $4.5 billion. Another $1.7 billion is earmarked in the 2021 budget. Representative T. J. Shope, Jr. of Florence said the legislature and the governor are working in good faith to bring new dollars to public education.

"We are showing as a legislature and governor's office that we do appreciate the work they do with the increases we already put in and we're going to continue to do that,” Shope said.

But the money isn't getting into the classroom fast enough for some people like Angela Octave. An Ahwatukee grandmother who has three grandkids in elementary and middle school.
A June 2019 University of Arizona study seems to bear that out. It ranked Arizona last in the nation for per-pupil spending on instruction.

"I feel disappointed by the lack of action by the legislature," Octave said. "It's like we need to get on this."

Over the next five months, public school teachers will need to gather more than 300,000 signatures to be sure the Invest in Ed proposition will make it on the November Ballot. If they are successful, the teachers will still have a fight on their hands. Governor Ducey opposes the tax. Even on that is limited to people who earn more than $250,000 a year or file a joint tax return in excess of $500,000.

"He will fight it,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said. "He's going to be opposite teachers, he's going to be opposite students and he's going be opposite parents.”