Arizona voters may be asked as soon as November to continue supporting a temporary 1-cent sales tax passed in May 2010 that is set to expire next year.
And, based on polling done by Merrill Research, there may be enough support to make it happen.
According to Bruce Merrill and his group, seven out of 10 Arizona voters support the continuation of the existing one-cent sales tax to fund public education. The polling was done last month.
"Support for continuation of the tax is broad-based, with independents, Republicans, and Democrats all in favor," Merrill said in a release Thursday.
But giving more money isn't necessarily the answer to Arizona's education woes, said Jonathan Butcher, education director for the conservative Goldwater Institute.
"Calls for more education spending are not new. It's something we hear every year," he said. "If we could look back and say, ‘Wow, every time we have an increase of education spending, our test scores scoot right up along with the increases,' that would be one thing. But obviously, we can't say that. Scores around the country, and in Arizona for that matter, have essentially been flat."
Arizona lawmakers put Proposition 100 on the ballot in 2010 after almost a year of negotiating. In the end, they did it, they said, to help fill the gap created by revenue shortfalls to state coffers for fiscal year 2011, which began July 1, 2010.
The voters overwhelmingly passed the measure, which raised the state's transaction privilege tax from 5.6 cents on every dollar to 6.6 cents. It has, as expected, brought in about $900 million a year.
The measure was intended to raise funds for all levels of education, as well as public safety and health care in Arizona. Education in Arizona makes up more than 40 percent of state spending. State universities and state public schools have cut millions since the recession hit Arizona and the state's tax revenues began to sink.
The poll released Thursday was commissioned by a number of education and business organizations, including Tucson-based Arizona Education Network, a parent-founded, public education support organization and one of the backers of the sales tax.
Arizona Education Network's Ann-Eve Pedersen said a new tax question is still being finalized to put before voters to get on the November ballot, but it will include "strong performance measures and accountability measures" for schools as well as plans for "stable and secure" education spending for all forms of education, from public K-12 schools to community colleges, state universities, GED programs and joint technical education districts.
"We've also talked about putting in a funding floor for K-12 that would help protect these investments," she said.
Chuck Essigs, interim executive director for the Arizona School Boards Association and a long-time Arizona school finance expert, said Prop. 100 was meant to hold up the state while it waded through a tough economic time.
"What it's (Prop. 100) really done is prevent more drastic cuts to state programs, to education, to universities, to health care. That money is going into the general fund. A portion is earmarked for K-12 education and universities. It was not to improve the funding for those areas," he said. "It was not designed to solve the funding problems with education. It was designed to keep the cuts from being greater than what they ended up being."
Another ballot question could give more stability to education funding, he said.
"I've been involved in school finance for many years. I've told people, there's never been a time like there's been in the last few years when the cuts were that severe and the magnitude and lengths of the cuts were unprecedented. If we're going to climb back out of that, this could be an opportunity to do that," he said. "Shouldn't the voters have a chance to weigh in and say yes or no?"
Pedersen pointed to the poll results that found voters would support performance plans to show that the money is making an impact in achievement. The poll also found voters would support funding education more than cutting taxes or putting money into a "rainy day" fund for the state.
"We simply cannot issue a blank-check to Arizona school districts," Pedersen said in the release. "While Arizonans want more investment in K-12 education, these dollars must be tied to student performance if we want to meaningfully improve education in our state."
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune