Arizona Town Hall calls for higher taxes to pay for education

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The 110th annual Arizona Town Hall convened earlier this month and issued a report calling for more money to be put into the state’s struggling education system.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan group holds a three-day convention every year with members from across the state, where they discuss issues facing the state. Arizona Town Hall participants Nikki Bagley and Zoe Richmond join Arizona Horizon to discuss the group’s most recent meeting, which focused mainly on funding for education throughout the state.

Ted Simons: The 110th Arizona town hall recently looked at education funding for pre-k through 12th grades. Hear to tell us what was discussed and the subsequent recommendations are town hall participants Zoe Richmond, a former PR professional who is now a stay at home mom and Nikki Bagley, a small business owner and former mayor of Jerome. Thank you so much for joining us.

My pleasure.

Ted Simons: By the way, what is the Arizona town hall?

Nikki Bagley: Well, it is a collaborative process where you get people together from all walks of life and put them into room and stick them in there until they agree on something. It is a three-day process. On the first day it is basic but on the third day you get down to the meat and potatoes.

Zoe Richmond: What I would like to add is the very important first steps that happen as part of the town hall which is we have state-wide experts that come together to create a fact-based report. I think that is also one of the things Arizona town hall is known for and that is reports that don't carry the bias of other organizations.

Ted Simons: Among the findings was the system is failing Arizona’s kids. Talk about that.

Nikki Bagley: In many ways. The Verde Valley who is who I am representing put together a form to talk about this issue. One of the things that really surfaced in our discussions was this: we simply can't do more with less. You know? Arizona has always been pushing towards a leaner government, more efficient government. With the downturn, all schools really felt that. At this point, it is very strongly felt we simply can't do more with less. We need to introduce new revenue streams for schools to start succeeding.

Ted Simons: It is getting worse and need to change course and begin to reinvest significantly.

Zoe Richmond: I sat in a lot of board rooms where decisions are being made in terms of where do we expand, where do we build, where do we grow. I know in Arizona we love talking about the sunshine and weather is the consideration in those discussions as our taxes and infrastructure. Particularly the companies I have worked for there is a discussion on education. I have worked for companies that really aren't looking for engineers. They are looking for qualified high school graduates. If those companies can't find that within the workforce they start looking at other locations. As a mother, I want the best for my children. But as a resident of Arizona, I want what is best for Arizona and I think we need to start drawing that line from education to economic development.

Ted Simons: 15,000 a raise for teachers and funding nearly doubled what it is now. How realistic is this?

Nikki Bagley: Well, you know, I think it is important to take a step by step approach and understand where you want to be and what steps you can take today and how to set a trajectory so that as years go by you are getting closer and closer to your goal instead of further and further away. At this point, we need to stop at least doing harm. You know? Since 2007, I believe, 4.5 billion dollars has been taken out of education funding. So it is important to realize that, you know, we are not looking for 4.5 billion at this point. We are looking to make incremental steps forward. You know, a billion in teacher pay is a lofty goal and sounds like a lot all at once but to make a strategy in which it is implemented in a way where the impact isn't felt so hard.

Zoe Richmond: As a conservative republican, I want my tax dollars used widely. I would rather see them spent on the foundation for the children on the front end as opposed to the prison system on the back end.

Ted Simons: School choice is probably a big deal and sometimes in Arizona school choice treats kids like commodities especially charters and instills unhealthy competition among schools. Do you agree with that?

Zoe Richmond: The Arizona town hall process was very eye opening for me. I think the competition me find is because the state isn't funding schools adequately in general. There is that fight for the finance pie that continues to shrink. The eye-opening experience was looking outside of Maricopa County and rural communities and they might not have a choice. How does choice impact all of the students that maybe aren't so lucky to live in chandler.

Ted Simons: The report says the schools and competition empowers schools to pick students as opposed to students and parents picking schools.

Nikki Bagley: Right and I think one thing that really was happening in all of our discussions was talking about the state's role in all of this. You know? It seems like more and more parents and students and schools are the ones driving these conversations when really the state's constitution charge is to provide a general and uniform school system for every child in Arizona. So you know the ideas in school choice were all good to begin with but the product has certainly brought troubles.

Zoe Richmond: I would also like to add part of my education through this process is that it is not a level playing field. I have realized that some charter, private schools, folks getting to home school their children even are playing by different rules than our public schools. We have really hamstrung schools are a lot of rules that charters and private schools don't have to follow. So from my perspective what I would like to see done is a little bit of what the governor has done in other agencies. Let's go ahead and take a look and review all of those rules. See which ones are antiquated and streamline them and get more efficient.

Ted Simons: Raising the prop 301 sales tax to 10%. Statewide property tax. Getting rid of tax carve outs. Operative word is tax. How far is this going to go?

Nikki Bagley: I think it is an interesting point. If the legislature were willing to step up and actually take a significant look at the tax cuts that are being rolled out right now we have $12 billion that are not coming into our sate coffers because of the tax cuts. Some are beneficial to Arizona. What is not happening is an analytical view on where that is leverage the economy and success. If the state legislature were willing to, I will be frank, do their job, and find a way to fund education with the means we have we would not be proposing a new stream of revenue. If you look through the community reports from very conservative districts, the White Mountains and such, you will see a similar statement. We need more money. Our state isn't willing to stet up. We as citizens are concerned about our education funding and we are willing to step up the plate and find a way to fund it.

Ted Simons: We have to stop there. Good discussions and congratulations on what sounds like an exciting town hall. Thank you both.

Nikki Bagley: Participant, Arizona Town Hall
Zoe Richmond: Participant, Arizona Town Hall

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