Arizona school funding plan would raise taxes for some

The Arizona Republic
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Alia Beard Rau

Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey are touting the education funding plan as a way to put more money into classrooms without raising taxes.

The $3.5 billion plan would tap the State Land Trust, the endowment given to Arizona at statehood to help pay for education, which proponents have cited as a key tax-free resource.

But it would still raise taxes for some Arizonans. That's because the proposal, approved by Ducey and the Legislature last month, increases the base amount the state provides public K-12 districts and charter schools by about $175 per student.

Base-level funding is paid through a combination of state general fund revenue and property taxes. In districts with higher property values per student, more of the money comes from taxes. In districts with lower property values per student, more comes from the general fund.

In 39 districts where the property values are particularly high, local taxes pay all of the costs. Those are called non-state-aid districts. They include the Cave Creek, Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Saddle Mountain, Gila Bend, Prescott, Sedona-Oak Creek and Morenci districts.

Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, said his organization doesn't consider the funding proposal a tax hike, but more like a toggling of the amount owed under the existing tax structure. The amount residents in each district pay also can change annually based on changes in property values.

Typically, the base is raised about 1.6 to 2 percent each year. This proposal raises it by about 5 percent.

"I don't think there was any deception on the part of leadership or the governor," he said. "I doubt it even crossed their mind. It is a downstream component that happens every time you change the base support level. Most of the time, it goes without notice."

If homeowners do notice, it would be on next year's taxes. This year's rates are already set and the education-funding plan still needs support from voters in May.