One of the most important issues on the ballot in a special election last May was Proposition 123. Its passing by Arizona voters means funding for the state’s unique K-12 public school system, which is comprised of both charter schools and traditional public schools.
Thanks to the efforts of both business and education leaders in the community, Proposition 123 allows for the distribution of $3.5 billion to all Arizona public schools for the next decade. The funds will be used at each school’s discretion based on individual classroom needs.
Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, emphasizes the notable impact of Proposition 123 on a national scale: “As far as we can tell, when you look at all 50 states, [Proposition 123] is probably the most new money injected into a K-12 system in any state last year. We [at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce] were very happy to play a role in its passage.”
Proposition 123 stemmed from the unsettled legal case of Proposition 301, a proposal to raise state sales taxes for public school funding. Gridlocked in litigation, Proposition 301 failed to provide schools with the resources they desperately needed, necessitating the quick action provided by Proposition 123.
“Given the complications surrounding school funding, this proposition gives us plenty of time to work on more equitable funding models without the constant pressures of legal action,” says Glenn.
Proposition 123 supports Arizona’s K-12 public school system, providing funding to a multitude of traditional and charter schools. Students in Arizona benefit from open enrollment, which means they can enroll in any school of their choosing, whether or not it is within their neighborhood district boundaries.
“As a parent, I’ve lived that,” says Glenn. “I have three girls in public schools. Two are in charters, one is in a traditional public high school. Three girls, three very different personalities. One of the great things about this state is that you have a chance to match the school with the needs of the child.”
Freedom of choice creates competition, which drives Arizona schools to provide a quality education. When asked about national ranking in public education, Glenn admits that Arizona hovers at the bottom when it comes to per-pupil funding: “That’s why we supported proposition 123. In terms of education performance, Arizona does a lot better than people recognize. For example, we are the only state in the country with three public high schools on U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 list.”
Proposition 123 ensures that Arizona public schools continue the trend in excellence in education.
“We have models that are working very well in both charter and traditional public schools. The name of the game is getting more resources and more kids into these high-performing schools,” says Glenn. More money per student also ensures that more students get off of waiting lists and into those high-performing schools. It also encourages the success of low-income students.
Per capita, more students attend charter schools in Arizona than in any other state. Proposition 123 gives much-needed support to charter schools, which do not benefit from property taxes as traditional public schools do. Glenn cites the unique success Arizona can claim in creating an atmosphere conducive to the growth of charter schools: “Arizona was a trailblazer. Charters now exist in most other states. What we’re seeing are some very successful networks expanding in Arizona and across the country. BASIS and Great Hearts [Academies] are expanding in other states.” He adds that BASIS has opened a school in China.
Most Arizona charter schools currently receive $1,000 less per student than traditional public schools. Glenn and others at the Arizona Charter Schools Association are working to make sure that these schools get the resources they need to continue providing an excellent education. Proposition 123 provides an additional $300 per charter and public school student, what Glenn calls a “complete win-win. You have a lot of happy and relieved charter and public school operators.”
Glenn says that Proposition 123 is a “textbook example” of what can be achieved when business, education and political leaders work together toward a common goal. He takes pride in the successful passage of Proposition 123, noting that, with the lawsuit off the table, additional resources and reforms will accelerate improvements in K-12 education in Arizona.
Funding public education also ensures a skilled future work force. Glenn emphasizes the importance of matching the quality of Arizona’s K-12 system with the needs of employers, adding with a laugh, “As much as I love my girls, I don’t really want them sleeping in our basement in 20 years!” On a more serious note, Glenn notes that with the combination of freedom of choice, academic excellence and improved funding, “Arizona public schools have a lot to be proud of.”