By Ricardo Cano for The Arizona Republic
Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday announced a plan he says would “reverse Recession-era cuts” to Arizona school funding and help settle a $1B lawsuit over a decade of cuts to school capital funding.
Surrounded by more than 50 Arizona school superintendents, Ducey said his budget this year will include $100M in “permanent” and “flexible” school capital funding. He promised to continue to increase that capital funding until it reaches $371M by 2023.
The plan would be to distribute that money to schools via the so-called District and Charter Additional Assistance funding, which goes toward expenses such as school building construction and renovation, textbooks, technology and school buses.
Ducey said his 2019 budget proposal, which is expected to be formally released Friday, would also provide $300M in additional funding for other areas of K-12. That includes required additional funding for student growth and inflation.
Ducey did not specify how he will pay for the plan beyond saying that “those dollars are coming from the growing general fund as our economy is growing.”
Updated numbers are expected from economists and state officials next week, but an October state Finance Advisory Committee report projected the state would have a cash shortfall of $24M at the end of the current fiscal year and a shortfall of $80M next fiscal year.
The committee projected a shortfall in the structural balance — the difference between ongoing revenue and ongoing spending — of $19M next fiscal year.
Other Funding Promises
Ducey detailed how he proposes to distribute the other $300M he’s promised schools next year. It includes:
- $116M for student growth and inflation, which is required under state law.
- An additional $35.2M, on top of the $17M baseline, to the state’s School Facilities Board for building renewal grants sought by schools to improve or repair aging facilities.
- $2M to fully fund large Joint Technical Education Districts. Students attending these high schools currently aren’t funded by the state for all four years.
- $34M for the second year of a promised teacher salary increase.
The governor touted his plan as the “next step beyond Proposition 123,” the ballot measure that resolved a separate $1.6B lawsuit over school inflation funding.
“How do you settle lawsuits? You settle lawsuits with dollars,” Ducey said. “We’re bringing dollars into the equation. This lawsuit can be settled – we’re demonstrating a five-year, forward-looking commitment.”
Ducey was referring to a 2017 lawsuit alleging the state has not adequately funded infrastructure expenses for things like building maintenance, school buses and technology.
School officials involved in that lawsuit said they do not view Ducey’s plan as a formal offer to settle that lawsuit. Rather, they characterized the plan as “an act of good faith.”
“It’s going to take longer than a year to resolve (the lawsuit),” said Chris Kotterman, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association. “But at the same time, we’re not going to put our nose up at formula money that should be going to the schools.”
School administrators at the Tuesday announcement at the Arizona Capitol cheered the governor’s plan and said it addresses a desperate need for capital funding.
Many of them, including the superintendents of two of the state’s largest school districts – Mesa and Chandler – expressed an urgent need for more money to address long-term capital needs such as building repairs, textbooks and new buses.
Still Less Than in 2008
Save Our Schools Arizona last week held several events calling for the state to invest more money in public education. Its members specifically noted the $1B shortfall in school funding since the recession and have used that figure as their barometer for adequately funding schools.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools, said any budget that includes less than that amount for schools is “not new money – it is simply paying back a portion of what was taken out of the budget a decade ago.”
Read more at The Arizona Republic.
EDITOR’S NOTE: It appears Gov. Ducey’s proposal has placated at least some factions. According to a Jan. 10 report in The Arizona Capitol Times, The Arizona Association of School Business, a group of education officials, has voted to withdraw as a plaintiff in the funding lawsuit. The article quoted a statement in which the group’s board said the governor’s proposal, if approved, “brings immediate relief to our school districts versus waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit.” Several other plaintiffs remain in the lawsuit, however.