[IN-DEPTH] Head of state school finance panel says tax hike needed

Jim Swanson

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services via PinalCentral

The leader of a committee charged by Gov. Doug Ducey with studying school finance said the recommendations to redivide and revamp the dollars available won’t improve schools unless taxes are hiked to produce significantly more resources — and soon.

And that places him at odds with the governor.

Jim Swanson, who Ducey named to run the Classrooms First Initiative Council, said the two-year study which wrapped up at the end of last year certainly found formulas in need of overhaul. He said these range from disparities in state dollars between charter schools and traditional public schools to the fact that the amount of additional dollars available for students with special needs hasn’t been altered in a decade.

But in an extensive interview with Capitol Media Services, Swanson, CEO of construction firm Kitchell Corp., said he sees more than doubling a special 0.6-cent education sales tax surcharge as the only way for the state to make truly significant improvements in producing students ready to take 21st century jobs. Swanson figures Arizona needs to increase that a full penny, something he said would generate about $1 billion a year.

Ducey, by contrast, is dead-set against any tax increase, whether for education or anything else.

The governor told Capitol Media Services that schools will be getting about $300 million more a year from the deal he cut with education groups to end a lawsuit charging the state illegally failed to keep education funding at least even with inflation.

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