Proposition 123

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Proposition 123 will add education funding in Arizona by increasing the amount that is paid from the state trust land. Sherman Dorn, Educational Leadership and Innovation division director and professor in Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College, will walk us through the ins and outs of Proposition 123.

Ted Simons: Proposition 123 will ask voters to increase distribution from the state land trust to settle a lawsuit over inflated adjusted education funding. Here's is Sherman Dorn, educational leadership and division director and professor at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton teachers college. Thanks for coming in.

Sherman Dorn: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: What does prop 123 call for?

Sherman Dorn: Three things. One it ends the lawsuit as you indicated just before. Second, it pulls funds from the Arizona land trust. By doing so, it allows the state legislature to increase the base amount going to children in public education by about $175 per child. That means in a classroom of 30 a little over $5,000.

Ted Simons: What does this leave unaddressed? What is this delay?

Sherman Dorn: So $5,000 is a substantial, noticeable amount, not a windfall. It still leaves Arizona in the lower half of countries in the states in terms of funding education per child in the United States. Depending on would perspective you have that might be a crisis or something to address in the long term.

Ted Simons: In the long term we could be talking ten years.

Sherman Dorn: That's correct. State legislatures address the problem in front of them. When governor Ducey came to them in the fall with a proposed resolution of the lawsuit it gave them an opportunity to pull funds out of the land trust for ten years. That's a fairly long time in terms of education funding.

Ted Simons: At the standard rate of 6.9% as opposed to escalating or deescalating --

Sherman Dorn: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Both sides here -- there does seem to be a wide swath of supporters. Opposition is starting to gain ground. The supporters seem to be pretty broad. Is that a surprise?

Sherman Dorn: No. It's not a surprise. It settles the lawsuit and gives the legislature and plaintiffs and parents who had been talking with legislators some guarantee of increase in funding for education.

Ted Simons: The lawsuit is over. The legislature not spending what proposition 301 called for, inflation adjusted education funding. The legislature just didn't do it. Everything up to the state Supreme Court said they should do it. They didn't. This lawsuit is, what, 7 cents on the dollar, returning that money.

Sherman Dorn: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Critics will say basically the legislature is getting away with it.

Sherman Dorn: Well, in most states there could be a long-term battle between state courts and the legislature over funding. This resolves the lawsuit. Right now in the state of Washington with a different political dynamic the legislature is refusing to do what the state Supreme Court is demanding in terms of funding public education, so it's not just in Arizona. This resolves the lawsuit and gives some funding to schools for the next ten years.

Ted Simons: Other critics say increased distribution out of the state land trust basically hurts the fund. Doesn't kill it but hurts it 40, 60, 90 years from now. Valid argument?

Sherman Dorn: Probably not. The value of the land trust increased between the early 2000s to today a little from 1 billion to a little over $5 billion. The Arizona Republic had a fairly long article explaining the history of the land trust on the 17th of April. It explained that Arizona has the third largest value in the land trust. We're one of 23 states that have a land trust but all states have to piece together different revenue sources for education. I suppose you could ask how much you could put aside for education in 40 or 60 years. Most people in Arizona today want to know what the state is going to do to invest in education in the next five to ten years. As far as those who say this is all fine and dandy but there's a cash surplus. The legislature could do what it's supposed to do, should have done in the past with this cash surplus. Leave the state land trust alone. The money is there. Pay for it.

Ted Simons: How many years would that cash have gone for in terms of the settlement?

Sherman Dorn: It probably would not have done anything for the long term. Most legislatures when they look at problems in front of them try to solve them immediately. A good legislature can solve problems and set up structures for five to ten years. A great legislature stumbles into a solution for a couple of decades.

Ted Simons: And the goal being, of course, to plug the leak. Now, have we seen this kind of thing, you mentioned Washington. Have we seen these kinds of dynamics in play, have the leaks been plugged, have they stayed plugged?

Sherman Dorn: In every state when you try to put together an education budget it comes from different sources and all of those sources are vulnerable to changes. The land trust value can go up or down. Property values can go up or down. Personal income and corporate income can go up and down. All are vulnerable to economic changes. So what any legislature tries to do is put together resources from what it sees. That's why they have staff that make projections. Those projections are not forever projections but a legislature usually has to make the decision right there for one or two-year period for each budget cycle.

Ted Simons: League of Women Voters has come out against this. They call it a fraud on the people. Do they have a point?

Sherman Dorn: Probably not. It's a calculated bet by everybody who agreed to the resolution of the lawsuit that this was the best that both sides could get. The league of women voters obviously disagrees. The relevant question is if proposition 123 fails, what would happen next? Would the legislature ever respond to court orders without something that I'm not exactly sure what state courts have the power to do.

Ted Simons: Constitutional crisis they weren't going to do it.

Sherman Dorn: Other state legislatures have done the same thing.

Ted Simons: Could this even if it passes could this still ends up in court?

Sherman Dorn: Well, there are two questions. If it passes the real question is what happens next year with education funding. I think the debate about a lawsuit over the land trust are a distraction. The real question for schools receiving the funding is how wisely are they spending the extra $175 per child. For the legislature and those running for the legislature this fall, the relevant question is how are you demonstrating to parents and to you, me and our neighbors in Arizona their commitment to education in communities across the state. The lawsuit threat depends on the federal judge saying, we have the right to impose and to examine closely how a state uses the land trust that Congress gave an individual state. I actually don't know whether or not other federal judges have looked at any state's use of land trusts. We're not the only state with a land trust.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Last question, is there not irony in asking voters to okay a settlement to a lawsuit that is based on lawmakers not following what voters approved?

Sherman Dorn: This is life in a democracy. Sometimes we have to figure out how to get our way out of conflicts. If that involves another election, sometimes that's what happens.

Ted Simons: So you do see a little bit of irony there.

Sherman Dorn: A little bit. I'm an historian. I live in irony.

Ted Simons: Right. When all is said and done, it sounds as though you're somewhat supportive of this.

Sherman Dorn: 175 per child translates into $5,000 in a classroom of 30. That's something. It doesn't put us anywhere close to the upper tier of states in terms of education funding, but it is something.

Ted Simons: So put you in the camp of it's a start.

Sherman Dorn: Pretty close.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Sherman Dorn: Thank you for inviting me.

Sherman Dorn: Educational Leadership and Innovation Division Director and Professor in Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teacher's College

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