Arizonans voted to boost taxes on high earners in order to steer more money to public schools, marking a major win for the Red for Ed movement that began with a wave of teacher strikes in several states two years ago.
Proposition 208, dubbed Invest in Ed, will go into effect next year to fund salaries and training programs for teachers and support staff at public schools and public charters.
The Associated Press called the race late Thursday, with “yes” votes leading “no” 52% to 48%.
The additional 3.5% tax on income will apply to earnings above $250,000 for single filers and $500,000 for joint filers. It would be added to Arizona’s current top tax rate of 4.54%.
Backers of the measure estimate it will put an additional $940 million annually into the state’s public K-12 school system.
Arizona teachers were part of the historic series of strikes that hit public schools around the country, starting in early 2018. The educators were protesting years of disinvestment in public schools that led to staff shortages and underfunded classrooms. Even though the strikes temporarily shut down schools, the public by and large supported teachers’ efforts to boost funding for the education system.
The results of Tuesday’s vote show Arizonans still like the idea of pumping more money into schools even if it means higher taxes for some residents. Polling ahead of the vote showed broad public support for the proposal crossing party lines, with two-thirds of respondents saying they approved of the tax. But the result ended up much closer.
Teachers and their unions pushed for a tax increase on high earners in 2018, but the Arizona Supreme Court ordered that the initiative be removed from that year’s ballot due to the language used in the petition. This year’s ballot initiative did not run into the same problem.
Teacher unions helped fund the Arizona initiative, saying school districts pay staff too little to attract and retain talent. The average teacher salary in Arizona was $50,353 during the 2018-19 school year, giving it a rank of 43 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country.
Under Prop. 208, half the money raised would go toward salaries for classroom staff, a quarter toward salaries for school support staff, and the rest toward retention and training programs. According to The Arizona Daily Star, only around 90,000 Arizona residents earn enough money to be hit by the tax surcharge.
The ballot measure drew opposition from state Republican leaders including Gov. Doug Ducey, who said it would hurt small business owners whose earnings top the $250,000 mark.
Business lobbies lined up in opposition to the proposal as well, with the state Chamber of Commerce pouring more than $8 million to fight it in the final stretch. But initiative supporters still outspent the opposition by a healthy margin, according to Ballotpedia.