Arizona and Colorado adopted ALEC-inspired tax-cutting policies, writes Jan Resseger. Their chief victim was public schools and teachers. This was intentional, not an accidental consequence.

“Arizona and Colorado, where teachers walked out last Thursday and Friday, represent the two states where the gap is widest among all the fifty states.  In Arizona, public school teachers make only 62.8 percent and in Colorado 64.5 percent of the salaries of other college graduates. And in both states the cost of living is quickly rising….

”Here are some realities in Arizona, where teachers continued their strike yesterday. The Washington Post’s Moriah Balingit reports: “When adjusted for inflation, Arizona cut total state per-pupil funding by 37 percent between 2008 and 2015, more than any other state.  That has led to relatively low teacher salaries, crumbling school buildings, and the elimination of free full-day kindergarten in some districts… Low teacher pay has contributed to teacher shortages in Arizona. Some districts, unable to find qualified teaching candidates, have turned to emergency long-term substitutes who are required to hold only a high school diploma.

”Writing for Education Week, Daarel Burnete II adds: “Arizona is one of seven states that, in response to voter demands, has cut income taxes in the last decade, a revenue source schools rely on heavily. In 2016 alone, the state allowed $13.7 billion to go uncollected through a series of income, sales, and other tax exemptions, deductions, allowances, exclusions, or credits, according to the state’s department of revenue.  At the same time, Arizona has made among the most dramatic budget cuts in the nation to its schools, totaling 14 percent in the last decade alone… The paradox is that Arizona’s economy is in its best condition in years.  Its unemployment rate stands at 4.9 percent, and the state’s 100 largest corporations added more than 20,000 jobs last year alone.”

”Colorado’s capacity to fund its schools is complicated by an American Legislative Exchange Council backed Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a TABOR, adopted into Colorado’s state constitution in 1992. Here is a description about how Colorado’s TABOR affects school funding: “(W)hat it basically means is that lawmakers can’t raise your taxes without making you vote on it first. And it also limits how much of a ‘raise,’ so to speak, that the state gets each year. And, if the state happens to generate too much money, it can’t keep it. Instead, this goes back to taxpayers.”  TABOR and other tax freezes and limitations in Colorado mean that state’s allocation for school districts has declined steadily.

”The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains further that Colorado is the only state that has embedded a TABOR into its constitution despite attempts in other states, where voters have defeated passage of this kind of restrictive policy that is being promoted by far-right anti-tax interests. More than a decade after the TABOR was passed, Colorado’s revenue collapsed so completely that: “In 2005, Colorado voters approved a measure to suspend TABOR’s formula for five years to allow the state to rebuild its public services. Unfortunately, the suspension did not last long enough for the state to recover fully from the period that TABOR was in effect, and the Great Recession further undermined that effort.  TABOR continues to cause ongoing fiscal headaches for Colorado even as the economy improves.”

The citizens of these states must decide whether they want low taxes or a decent education system. Charters and vouchers are no substitute for adequate funding.