Arizonans are telling legislators what they think of Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed education funding cuts in a series of events this week at the Arizona State Capitol.
Later today, hundreds of people are expected to protest education funding cuts outside the capitol at a grassroots event organized by Brooke Robbins Kistner, a Peoria mother of three, with help from Lisa Eisenberg Best and the Terramar Parent Teacher Student Association.
“Our district schools have faced massive cuts over the past five years,” Kistner said. “The current proposed budget cuts amount to several million dollars for most districts. There is nowhere left to cut that won’t have a severe negative impact on the outcomes of our students.”
Governor Ducey’s proposed budget was the last straw for her, Kistner said.
“He ran on a platform of money to the classrooms,” Kistner said. “It would seem he tricked voters into believing he would do good and not harm to the education budget.”
Teachers in some district schools have not seen raises in five years, and that is unacceptable, Kistner said.
“Our hard working educators deserve better. Our kids deserve better,” Kistner said. “We want to create awareness (with this protest) and let our Legislators know that we do not approve.”
It’s important for people to understand “what their particular district is facing and then contact their legislators to voice their opinion,” by email, a phone call or through the Arizona Legislature’s Request to Speak system, Kistner said.
“Our communities have watched over the past six years as the funding to schools has been cut, while expectations have grown and teachers have left the profession at an alarming rate,” said Jen Darland, a Tucson mother of two, who will attend the protest. “It’s more than being economically competitive. It’s about making sure our state leaders are properly aligning the state’s spending with the priorities of its citizens.”
Darland said she hopes that community members will analyze what is spent in the classroom and what is not, and then “actively engage with our elected representatives to push for solid and sustainable funding for the teachers, classrooms and school resources our children need to be prepared to make Arizona competitive for generations to come.”
Yesterday, nearly 150 Arizona K-12 public school leaders discussed with legislators what their schools are doing well and what resources schools need to continue that during the Arizona School Boards Association and Arizona Coalition for Quality Education’s Day at the Capitol.
“I believe it’s extremely important to let our legislators know our feelings and opinions,” said Teresa Reyna, superintendent of McNeal Elementary School District in a rural area of Cochise County. “Without our input, legislators are unaware of the deeply felt impact of the decisions and cuts made to education.”
Dr. Paul Tighe, superintendent of Mingus Union High School District which serves 1,211 students in Yavapai County, said he worries poor funding will negatively impact the state’s economic prosperity.
“The quality of education directly impacts economic growth and property values, not to mention the future of our nation, Tighe said. “Arizona will not be able to attract businesses beyond tourism without a quality education system.”
Arizona’s current per student K-12 funding adjusted for inflation is 17.5 percent lower than it was in Fiscal Year 2008 before the Great Recession began, or about or about $663 less, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report “Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” released in October 2014.
“If Arizona funded an equivalent of the national average per pupil, Arizona’s classroom percentage would far exceed the 61 percent goal set by the governor,” said Eugene Dudo, superintendent of Glendale Union High School District, in a letter to parents this week.
Arizona ranks third in the nation for the steepest cuts in K-12 per student spending, behind Alabama with 17.8 percent and Oklahoma with 23.6 percent, the report noted.
“Arizona is already nearly at the bottom of education (funding) and if these funding cuts happen I would be willing to bet we will secure our position in last place,” Kistner said.
The governor’s proposal to reduce non-classroom spending by five percent means districts need to look at cutting guidance counselors, transportation, librarians, nurses, security guards, speech language pathologists, behavior and occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, school administration, food services, utilities, department chairs, bookstores, technology, payroll, human resources, and school maintenance.
Most people are surprised at what is considered non-instructional, said Tighe, who recently made a presentation to the House Education Committee about the impact of cuts since 2008.
“Under the governor’s proposed budget, our capital obligations will exceed our capital allocation, meaning we will either have to default on our debt and lease payments or inappropriately take instructional dollars (M&O) to pay these payments,” Tighe said. “The bottom line is there is no way we can make these cuts without impacting students, programs and staff.”
The governor’s proposed budget does not include the $330 million in inflationary increases to reset base-level per-pupil funding that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper has ruled Arizona’s public schools are due, but rather the amount the Arizona Legislature has said they believe is owed public schools.
In a poll released Tuesday, 74 percent of Arizonans say the state spends too little on K-12 education. Also, 62 percent of Arizonans say they would be willing to be taxed an additional $200 per year to help improve Arizona’s public education system, according to the poll by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy and the Arizona State University‘s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Fifty-three percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Independents and 75 percent of Democrats who took the poll said they were willing to pay more taxes to help education.
Many schools like Mesa Public Schools, have posted information about the proposed budget changes on their website, along with videos and links for community members to contact their elected representatives.
Cronkite News: Protesters gather outside Arizona’s Capitol building to protest education budget