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Prop 123: Would increase school funding by $3.5B

Posted at 5:16 PM, Mar 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-28 20:16:30-04
With the presidential preference election behind us, voters are now turning their attention to Proposition 123, that will be on the ballot May 17.
This proposition would change Arizona's constitution and set up a plan to increase funding for K-12 education by $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years.
That money would primarily come from taking more money out each year from the state land trust, a fund established when Arizona first became a state as a way to fund K-12 education. When the state sells land, that money goes into a permanent savings account for education. The money is then invested and anything earned on the account is supposed to primarily fund K-12 education.
According to Expect More Arizona, the account currently has $5.2 billion.
Prop 123 would increase the distributions from that account from 2.5 percent to 6.9 percent, a total of about $2 billion over the 10 year period. 
"Prop 123 uses money that's sitting on the sidelines," said Ron Shoopman, president and CEO of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, an organization that supports Prop 123. "Over $5 billion sitting there in a trust that's dedicated for the express purpose of helping our students. Nothing is perfect but Prop 123 is a great opportunity to invest a significant amount of money in our schools and do it immediately." 
The remaining money for Prop 123 would come from the state's general fund, about $1.4 billion.
Shoopman says the SALC believes funding education will ultimately lead to a more qualified work force in the state and part of creating that work force starts with paying teachers a higher salary and purchasing the necessary technology to keep students competitive. 
If Prop 123 passes, the school districts will be able to use discretion on how the money should be spent. There is no mandate within the proposition that tells schools how to spend the money. 
"Prop 123 is the only game in town," said Shoopman. "If it fails, there's no backup plan and without that we lose more teachers and students will struggle to keep up with peers."
If passed, Prop 123 would also settle a 2010 lawsuit between school districts and the state over Prop 301, passed by voters in 2000.
The lawsuit alleged that the state ignored Prop 301 during the recession and schools were shorted money owed to them under the measure. 
Opponents of Prop 123 say part of the measure would put a cap on how much money can be given to schools from the general fund and they say it will deplete the state land trust fund with no real assurance that the fund will continue to make money from investments. 
"Once you spend that money, it's gone so that means the future generations of Arizona aren't going to have as much money coming from the land trust as they should," said Morgan Abraham, chair of the "No on Prop 123" campaign. "On top of that, it's the stuff that stays in our constitution forever. Prop 123 is a constitutional change so that 49 percent, that cap on how much we can spend on K-12 education, that stays in our constitution forever." 
He says his campaign is not anti-education, but rather he says he hopes voters will take a closer look at the consequences of Prop 123. 
"The end solution here is that the legislature needs to pay the money the schools are owed," said Abraham. "We can't be pulling money from the land trust, we can't be capping how much money our schools should get. We just need to pay the money and build toward a better education system in Arizona."
Prop 123 will be on the May 17 ballot.