Tax cuts for the wealthy put education funding at risk

Earlier this year, a Paradise Valley realtor made headlines for breaking ground on the most expensive house in Arizona history. The house, which will be listed for $75,000,000, will include four kitchens, 16 bathrooms, a “snow” room (whatever that is), and not one but two bowling lanes.

And thanks to policies pushed by Republican legislators and former Republican Governor Doug Ducey, its eventual owner will enjoy an enormous tax break courtesy of working Arizonans.

Ducey and legislative Republicans passed their tax break for the wealthy in the summer of 2021. Today, Arizonans who earn more than $5 million a year, like the likely future owner of the record-breaking Paradise Valley mansion, get an annual tax break of $200,000.

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Every year, they get to buy a new Porsche 911 Turbo convertible or a G-Suite Mercedes SUV thanks to us, the working people of Arizona.

The supporters of this policy will tell you that working families got a tax cut too. And we did. It’s just that instead of paying for a new sports car, ours barely covers a couple trips to the gas station.

Now, as a direct result of this disastrous policy, along with the out-of-control Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program, our state is facing a $850 million deficit—$400 million for this fiscal year and $450 million for the next—and rumors are starting to swirl at the state capitol about possible cuts to public education funding. In fact, some school boards, anticipating lower state funding, are already contemplating cuts to salaries for teachers and other educators next year.

It’s appalling. Arizona is already 49th in the nation for public school funding, with one of the biggest teacher pay gaps in the nation. We can’t retain classroom teachers, bus drivers, special education aides and other educators as it is. Months into the school year, we still have thousands of vacancies for classroom teachers, while thousands of other openings are being covered by teachers who lack standard credentials. Because of shortages of drivers, kids in some districts are spending an hour or more on the bus going to and from school every day. And that’s before we even discuss the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to repair and upgrade school facilities that haven’t been renovated in decades.

In this context, it’s hard to believe that anyone could seriously be considering cuts in order to protect a tax break for people with two bowling lanes and a spa inside their own house.

As president of the Arizona Education Association, I represent 22,000 people across Arizona. We are classroom teachers, librarians, custodians, cafeteria workers, HVAC specialists and more. Our students live on ranches and in farmworker housing, in crowded apartments and suburban houses. And all of them—no matter what they look like, where they were born, or who their parents are—deserve to get an excellent education.

That means building fundamental skills like math and reading; it means learning about America’s values and our history; it means getting the chance to explore music, arts and sports. On the whole, our public schools do an exceptional job at delivering on that commitment. There’s a reason that 90% of Arizona families chose public school! But the constant funding shortfalls make our job much harder than it needs to be.

In the long term, we need our elected officials to figure out how to bring new funding into our schools, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. In the short term, we need them to make clear that no matter what happens next session, there will be no cuts to K-12 public schools.

As educators, we do what it takes to ensure that our students get a great education, even when half the Chromebooks aren’t working, there’s a leak in the girls’ bathroom and yet another math teacher just quit. Even when things are complicated, we figure it out, because that’s our job. Now it’s time for our elected officials to do theirs.

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