Arizonans Approve Education Funding Increase via Land Trust

(Photo: Andrew Pons, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Andrew Pons, Creative Commons)

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) declared a victory on a measure that will give Arizona permission to use its land trust fund so that students will receive $300 each from kindergarten to graduation and other education needs. The additional funding will apply to students in both charter and public schools.

The total amount of dollars that will be put into education coffers, says David Schwartz of Reuters, amounts to $3.5 billion over the next decade. The money will also end a long-running legal dispute.

The results on early Thursday from the earlier special election revealed that 50.82% of those voting in the southwestern portion of the state agreed with the measure while 30,000 votes had still not been counted. Still, Gov. Ducey claimed the Proposition 123 had been approved by voters.

"This is a huge victory for public education in Arizona," Ducey said in a statement. "After years of lawsuits and fighting, we are moving forward and funding our teachers, students and schools – instead of lawyers."

It was necessary to allow residents of the state to vote on the measure since it included a change to the state's constitution. But Morgan Abraham, chairperson of the "No" campaign against the proposition, said the poor voter turnout showed that many voters were against the plan.

"This tells me that voters want to fund education the right way, not through the trust fund, but with general funds," Abraham said, adding that he was disappointed by the outcome of the vote.

Other critics said that Arizona was putting itself at risk by extracting an excess of money from its land trust fund. Roughly 60% of the new funding will come out of the trust and rest of the money will be allotted from the general fund.

The governor backed the change so that the state could get rid of a lawsuit from 2010 by a group of organizations and districts. The suit charged that Arizona had not funded mandated adjustments for district that were needed due to inflation.

Later, Bob Christie of The Associated Press wrote that the new vote tallies were causing the measure to surge even closer to triumph.

Ducey took the new development as an opportunity to thank the state's voters and to explain that their votes would be making a difference in children's and teachers' lives. Educators, he added, will finally be getting the resources they have been requesting.

The campaign on "Yes" spent almost $5 million to influence voters to support the measure by way of television and radio advertisements. But state Treasurer Jeff DeWit said it was a dangerous move because it would use some of the principal in the trust which was created to last forever.

DeWit continued by explaining that the move could infringe on a federal law that provided Arizona the land for the purpose of funding schools.

Michael Pierce, a resident of Phoenix, declared that Proposition 123 was unconstitutional. He filed a lawsuit in federal court which said the measure violates the Arizona Enabling Act. This bill mandates how the state land trust is maintained, reports KTVK-TV.

"This is the wrong way to do the right thing," Pierce said Thursday.

Dewit noted that he did not know about Pierce's lawsuit, but he did add that he would not be surprised if many more similar lawsuits were filed.

Dewit also said that there were numerous errors during the election which affected the results. For example, 200,000 election guides were not mailed to voters before the beginning of early voting. The brochures included the pros and cons of the ballot topics.

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