That figure is nearly twice the 150,642 valid signatures the campaign needs for its measure to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. Supporters unloaded 74 boxes of petitions to deliver to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The proposed ballot measure, introduced during the statewide #RedForEd teacher walkout, would bring in $690 million in funding for public schools by nearly doubling income-tax rates on Arizona’s highest earners.
But the #InvestInEd measure’s position on the ballot is not yet guaranteed.
Officials with the Secretary of State’s Office will review the signatures within 20 business days to determine how many are from valid Arizona voters; Counties have 15 business days to verify signatures.
Opponents could file legal challenges to try to throw out enough signatures to disqualify the effort.
The measure would raise income-tax rates by 3.46 percentage points on individuals who earn more than $250,000 or households that earn more than $500,000, and by 4.46 percentage points on individuals who earn more than $500,000 or households that earn more than $1 million.
‘An undertaking that is unprecedented’
About 100 teachers, Democratic candidates for office and supporters gathered outside the Capitol as the campaign unloaded its petitions.
The campaign’s leaders spoke with certainty in saying that voters would get a chance to decide on the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“This is an undertaking that is unprecedented,” said Joshua Buckley, the Invest in Education chairman and a Mesa teacher. “The overwhelming support shows that the people of Arizona understand that we must do more to support our students, educators and communities.”
Organizers said volunteers gathered about 150,000 of the signatures. Paid signature-gatherers collected the rest.
The 10-week effort was similar to an effort last summer by Save Our Schools Arizona, a mostly grassroots volunteer group that collected 111,540 signatures in 85 days to qualify a measure opposing the expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program.
If the #InvestInEd proposal qualifies for the November ballot, it would join that referendum, Proposition 305, in an election that could be defined by education issues.
But both efforts are expected to face heavy political opposition.
In a statement released shortly after the #InvestInEd campaign submitted its signatures, Jaime Molera, chairman of the opposing Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy campaign, said the measure would weaken the economy and, as a result, mean less revenue for schools.
“If the measure proceeds to the November ballot, then we welcome the conversation with Arizona voters over the next several months about why this initiative would do such terrible harm to Arizona’s economy, and why it would hurt – not help – Arizona teachers,” Molera said in the statement.
A move spurred by inaction
#InvestInEd leaders have said they introduced the ballot effort in response to what they characterized as an unwillingness by state leaders to invest more money in public education.
Gov. Doug Ducey in May signed a budget that included $400 million in additional funding for Arizona schools in response to the teacher-led activism movement and its #RedForEd walkout. It was the most significant amount of money to go toward Arizona education in recent history.
Supporters of the income-tax initiative, which includes the Arizona Education Association, the Children’s Action Alliance and the group of teachers who organized the walkout, said the ballot measure combined with the budget increase would effectively restore the $1.1 billion in cuts to school funding since the recession.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association teachers’ union, on Thursday called state leaders “out of touch with voters.”
Thomas and leaders of the campaign said they are prepared for an intense campaign battle over the next four months.
“Make no mistake, within minutes of filing, there will be attacks,” Thomas told supporter outside the Capitol Thursday. “They will attempt to discredit us. They will say awful things, because they want to keep the status quo.”
Opposition campaign gears up
Molera has said the opposition campaign has broad support from Arizona’s business community.
“We’re going to have business organizations, large and small, and from all corners of Arizona be very vocal on why this is a dangerous initiative,” Molera said.
Molera characterized the measure as bad policy, written with “zero input” from Arizona’s business community, that would not address long-term student achievement and severely impact small businesses.
He said his opposition campaign does not have an alternative proposal to increase education funding. He suggested stakeholders should focus on reforming Arizona’s antiquated school finance system.
A group commissioned by Ducey unsuccessfully attempted for nearly two years to revamp the school funding formula, finally suggesting the state needed to take the lead. The Classrooms First Council issued recommendations in 2016. There has been no resulting public proposal to overhaul the formula.