EDITORIAL: Throwing money at education doesn’t work | Editorials

We’re not fans of the “throw money at it” solution.

The familiar idiom dates back to the 18th century wisdom of Adam Smith who theorized it makes little sense for the “master of a family … neer to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.”

Though it may be convenient to spend for services and invest our time in more productive outcomes, the idea that the expenditure will result in the desired outcome doesn’t always apply.

Education in Arizona is the example.

Last week the Legislature adjourned “sine die,” ending its session after 171 days, which was the third-longest in the state’s 109-year history. It did so after approving a $12.8 billion budget that included a significant tax cut and a record amount of funding for education.

That’s not the narrative being promoted by education advocates, however.

Gov. Ducey’s spending plan was harshly criticized for the tax cut and, as always, for not spending enough on education. Supporters of public education pointed to the revised tax code as a tactic to help “the rich” escape Proposition 208, which Arizona voters narrowly approved last year. They also contend even though the state upped its spending for education, the state still doesn’t pay teachers enough and the ratio of students to teacher is among the highest in the nation — meaning that local school districts don’t have the resources to hire enough teachers.

The argument that the new “flat tax” benefits the rich isn’t completely accurate. When Prop. 208 goes into effect next year, high income earners will still be responsible to pay the income surcharge that was approved last year. The money collected from that surcharge can only be spent on education, with about 75 percent of the special tax allocated to increasing teacher salaries, hiring more paraprofessionals for teachers and offering incentives to people who want to become teachers.

While the new tax structure does lower the rate paid by high income earners to state government, it doesn’t mean this category of taxpayers is escaping the overall obligation to pay for public services.

It’s also important to remember that Arizona is shifting how it pays for state government. Gov. Ducey successfully negotiated new gaming compacts with Native Americans this year, which will dramatically increase the amount of money received from wagering. There is also more money expected from collection of internet sales and from the tax on marijuana. Overall, the nonpartisan committee that reports on state finances estimates that Arizona could have a surplus of up to $4 billion.

Taxpayers should receive a tax cut when the state is expecting this much surplus.

Finally, we’re getting tired of education advocates constantly complaining that Arizona does not allocate enough money for education. Three years ago, Gov. Ducey and the Legislature agreed to a 20% hike in teacher salaries and this year lawmakers approved a record amount of funding for schools.

Let’s take a closer look at what we are getting in return for “throwing money” at teachers and education in this state.

Maybe poor test scores has less to do with funding and more to do with what’s happening in classrooms.

This originally appeared in the Sierra Vista Herald.

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