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A proposal to raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest earners and boost spending on Arizona’s public schools is back on the November ballot, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled. 

The court wrote in its unanimous order that Invest in Education’s 100-word description “did not create a significant danger of confusion or unfairness,” reversing a Maricopa County Superior Court judge’s ruling that would have kicked the measure off the ballot.

Advocates who have long championed #InvestInEd celebrated on Wednesday. Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children, said the decision was “great news” for Arizona. 

“We need to inject funding into education,” she said. “Both now and when the pandemic is over.” 

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce-backed committee challenging #InvestInEd’s spot on the ballot, which had argued the measure’s synopsis was misleading to voters, rebuked the state high court’s decision. 

“Arizona deserves better,” Jaime Molera, chairman of Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, said. “We trust that Arizona will reject this risky scheme.”  

Invest in Education was born out of the #RedForEd movement, after teachers walked out of their classrooms for a week in the spring of 2018 to advocate for higher teacher pay and more overall school funding.  

A 2018 measure of the same name was knocked off the ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court.

What would the measure do? 

The measure would create a 3.5% tax surcharge for single individuals making more than $250,000 or married couples making more than $500,000.

The current income tax rate in Arizona for someone making $159,001 or more is 4.5%. Arizona’s average income tax rate is one of the lowest in the nation.

The money would go to the following, according to Invest in Education:

  • 50% to K-12 public district and charter school teacher and classroom support staff salaries.
  • 25% to schools for student support services staff.
  • 10% to teacher mentoring and retention programs at the school level to keep teachers from leaving the state.
  • 12% to career and technical education programs.
  • 3% to the Arizona Teachers Academy, an initiative to stem Arizona’s teacher shortage by waiving college tuition and fees for future teachers who agree to work in Arizona schools.

Amber Gould, the measure’s chair, is a high school teacher in Glendale. She’s taught for a decade, she said, and is always in need of resources for the classroom. 

“To have something like this on the ballot … would make such a difference in my classroom and classrooms in the state,” she said. 

Full opinion to come 

The initial court ruling was déjà vu for the educators supporting Invest in Ed: In 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court held that Invest in Ed “did not accurately represent the increased tax burden on the affected classes of taxpayers.”

Supporters blamed Gov. Doug Ducey, who has repeatedly said he does not support new taxes. The governor has appointed five of seven judges on the state Supreme Court, and signed legislation in 2016 that expanded the court from five justices to seven. Some have accused Ducey of “stacking” the court in favor of conservative outcomes. 

The educators went back to the drawing board and drafted this year’s version, which they said was crafted to withstand legal challenges.

In July, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury ruled that the new measure’s summary was “misleading by its omission of principal provisions,” arguing that it created a “substantial likelihood of confusion for a reasonable Arizona voter.” 

Proponents appealed, holding out hope that the state Supreme Court would reverse the decision.

It’s unclear what went into the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision this time around. The justices must still release their full opinion, which will include a longer explanation of their decision. 

Next battle: Votes 

This likely closes the legal chapter of the battle over Invest in Ed. Both sides said they are now ready to focus on votes.

David Lujan, with the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, said voters should expect to hear more soon about why funding teacher salaries is vital for the state’s education system. 

“Our next step is to start our campaign and start telling Arizonans why it’s so critically important,” he said. 

Molera vowed to keep fighting the measure. He has repeatedly argued that the tax would hurt small businesses, a claim Invest in Ed refutes. 

“If this initiative were to pass, economic growth would be slowed and resources available for education would shrink,” he wrote. 

Reach the reporter at Lily.Altavena@ArizonaRepublic.com or follow her on Twitter @LilyAlta.

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