Seeing red: Bill would cut voter-approved education funds, school supporters say

Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children, was among a handful of education advocates who rallied to oppose a bill they say would circumvent Proposition 208. “We have to stop the tax cuts that are taking money from education,” she says. (Photo by Lilia Stene/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Red for Ed, the teachers group that spearheaded Proposition 208 – which increases some taxes to hire teachers and bolster teacher salaries – this week returned to the political battlefield to fight a bill it says undermines the will of Arizona voters in November.

Education advocates oppose Senate Bill 1783, which would allow some business owners to avoid paying the higher taxes Proposition 208 levies on Arizona’s wealthiest residents. Proposition 208, approved by voters 52% to 48%, was spawned by the Red for Ed movement, which formed in 2018 to demand additional funds for education. Arizona ranks 50th in teacher pay, according to Expect More Arizona, an education group.

“This is about the kids and making sure that they have the brightest future possible,” Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children, said at a rally at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

Proposition 208 levies a 3.5% surcharge on the current rate of 4.5% on income exceeding $250,000 for single earners or $500,000 for couples. But SB 1783, sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would circumvent the surcharge by creating an alternate tax category, according to Capitol Media Services.

Mesnard told Capitol Media that the measure would help small businesses.

“We heard time and time again this will not or is not meant to impact small businesses,” he said. “And so what this is doing is ensuring that’s the case.”

About a dozen teachers, parents and students came to the Capitol on Wednesday to show their support for schools. Dressed in red or blue T-shirts, several carried signs. “Education made America great,” one said. “Seriously, do we really need to do this again?” said another.

Raquel Mamani, a teacher and board member of Save Our Schools, said lawmakers are “completely ignoring” the will of voters.

“I learned that the lawmakers in power here do not care about our children, they only care about pushing the agenda of special interests,” she said.

Gau said Proposition 208 props up a rickety funding system. The new funds, she said, will “fund teacher pay, teacher mentorship programs, teacher scholarship programs and career and technical education.”

“We have a really bad teacher shortage in Arizona, so making sure that we can stop the teacher shortage by recruiting new teachers, keeping good current teachers by paying them enough, professional development for teachers” is necessary, Gau said.

Kindergarten teacher Kelley Fisher said a good education system is just good economics.

“I think that people need to pay attention to the fact that America needs public schools,” Fisher said. “Arizona needs public schools. We have big businesses coming in and building. We have Amazon building a new building, we have Intel also building here. They need public schools for their children.”

Lilia Stene lih-lee-uh stene
News Reporter, Phoenix

Lilia Stene expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. She is a digitial reporter for Cronkite News this spring.