Dear School Librarianship Readers,
Below is an op-ed I submitted to the Arizona Daily Star on June 3, 2021. It was not published.
Between that time and this, the Arizona Legislature and Governor Doug Ducey passed a 2.5% flat rate for all Arizona state tax payers. Before this legislation, those in the top tax bracket in Arizona had a 4.5% cap so according to Capitol Media Services and as reported in the Daily Star on 7/3/21, 53% of the “savings” for the new tax structure will go to those making more than $1million a year.
In addition, the new tax structure will cap anyone’s taxes at 4.5% including the 3.5% surcharge for Proposition 208, and creates a new category for small-business owners to allow them to sidestep the surcharge for public education.
These changes from our progressive (and fairer) state tax rates were a direct result of Arizona voters passing Prop. 208 in the fall of 2020. This initiative added a 3.5% surcharge to individuals making more than $250,000 and couples filling jointly making more than $500,000 a year; the surcharge is to be collected ONLY on the amount of income OVER these two thresholds.
Before the flat tax passed on a party-line vote, Prop. 208 would have collected $800million for Arizona’s public schools, including funding for school librarians, social workers, and counselors. That amount will be reduced by at least $300million unless…
Arizona voters, especially those of us who supported and voted for Prop. 208, can stop the cuts. We are determined to put an initiative on the fall 2021 ballot to rescind these tax cuts. Polls showed that the majority of Arizona voters did not approve of the cuts so it is likely we can prevail. The work to collect 150,000 signatures begins as soon as the initiative petitions can be crafted and printed.
Today, I’m sharing the unpublished op-ed below in hopes that some piece of this information will support you in your advocacy work for district public school education and hiring and retaining state-certified school librarians.
In addition to the initiative effort, it is clear that Arizona voters must elect different legislators who will follow rather than thwart the will of the voters.
3 June 2021
A Note to Governor Ducey and Republican Arizona Legislators Regarding Arizona Public Education:
While you’re at recess, I hope you will rethink Arizona’s budget proposals.
The $1.5B tax cuts you are considering that will disproportionately benefit Arizona’s top earners are ill-timed and reckless. The fact is our state economy is in good shape. Governor Ducey’s own State of Arizona Executive Budget Summary, Fiscal Year 2022, forecasts a structural surplus of $141million, resulting in an ending cash balance of $855million. This revenue, which belongs to all Arizonans, plus our current tax structure could be used to put our state on the path toward a positive and sound education future for our children.
Arizona voters who passed Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, know the facts. In 2019, Arizona ranked 48th among the 50 states for K-12 per student spending and 46th in average teacher salaries. Arizona schools have lower per-pupil administration spending than any other state in the nation.
District public schools are severely economically challenged to provide equitable educational opportunities.
It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the public to realize the underfunding crisis in our K-12 schools. In 2020, no students, families, or districts should have been scrambling to provide the learning tools of this century in order for students to fully participate in remote learning. Internet access, laptops and other devices, and technology troubleshooting support should have been as common as pencils and pencil sharpeners in every school. Schools should have had the necessary technology infrastructure to give all students, educators, and families success during remote learning, and yet, a year and a half since the first school closures, opportunity gaps still exist.
This year, standardized test scores will likely show a decrease in students’ literacy proficiency due to a number of factors including the transition to remote learning, stress in home environments, and reduced participation in learning opportunities that educators worked tirelessly to provide.
Research shows that school librarians are key educators who make a difference in student learning outcomes. With their knowledge of print and digital resources, including technology tools, school librarians helped students, classroom teachers, and families navigate remote and hybrid learning. Arizona ranks 46th in the nation for the number of state-certified school librarians so many school communities did not have librarian support during school closures.
In addition, studies are showing that students’ social and emotional health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. According to the American School Counselor Association, Arizona ranks dead last among the states with an average of one counselor for every 905 K-12 students.
These statistics do not describe a K-12 district public school system that is preparing students for success.
Last November, Arizonans voted to reverse a three decades in the making crisis in underfunding schools. We voted to address the teacher shortage, increase educator pay, and train future educators. We voted to increase the number of school librarians and counselors in order to shore up the academic and social-emotional health of our students. We voted to invest in education to improve the prospects for our students in a competitive global economy.
When schools lack key faculty members who are trained literacy learning, technology integration, and health experts, students and educators do not have the support they need and deserve.
It’s time to remember that you represent the people of Arizona. We are the “special” interest group who elected you to meet the challenges and solve the problems that individual citizens, groups of advocates, towns, cities, and counties cannot meet and solve on our own. Our district public schools are our collective responsibility.
The current budget surplus and tax structure plus Proposition 208 provisions that provide a permanent funding stream can support school districts in equitably meeting the high-level of literacy and technology opportunities our children must have to succeed.
Don’t shortchange our students! Wealthy Arizonans do not need tax breaks at the expense of our children.
End of Op-ed
Addendum: In a July 7, 2021 article “In a Drive to Cut Taxes, States Blow an Opportunity to Invest in Underfunded Services” by the non-partisan Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, Arizona is not alone. Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina among others are mentioned alongside the Grand Canyon State. “After a year in which the gross disparities in our economy became even more apparent, tax cuts for thriving high-income households should not register as a priority.”
But here in Arizona, the rich got the tax cuts and the K-12 schools got shortchanged – again! So, now it’s time to once again start circulating those petitions to undo the harm.
References (Required by the AZ Daily Star that accompanied my op-ed submission)
American Association of School Librarians During Remote and Hybrid Learning. 2021. Knowledge Quest (blog). https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/final-school-library-snapshot-survey-results
Arizona Governor. 2021. State of Arizona Executive Budget. https://azgovernor.gov/sites/default/files/summary_book_with_addendum_2-1-21_0.pdf
Arizona PBS. 2019. Arizona School Counselor to Student Ratio Worse in the Nation. https://azpbs.org/horizon/2019/05/arizona-school-counselor-to-student-ratio-worst-in-nation/
Hough, Heather J. 2021. Learning Loss and Test Scores. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2021/04/29/covid-19-the-educational-equity-crisis-and-the-opportunity-ahead/
Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2018. Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us. Kappan Online. https://kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/
National Education Association. 2021. Research and Publications: Arizona Education Rankings. https://www.nea.org/research-publications
SLIDE.org. 2021. School Librarian Numbers. https://libslide.org/
Woolf, Nick. 2020. Social-emotional Toll on Students. InsideSEL. https://insidesel.com/2020/11/19/the-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-on-student-learning-and-social-emotional-development/