Five education issues to watch in the upcoming Arizona Legislature session
What will education advocates be focusing on this legislative session? Here are five education issues to watch when the Arizona Legislature’s next session starts on Jan. 10, 2022.
#1 Aggregate expenditure limit
The Arizona Legislature needs to override the aggregate expenditure limit by March 1, 2022, or school districts across Arizona will need to cut a total of nearly $1.2 billion from their budgets this year, said Dr. Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
“This is our primary concern for this legislative session,” said Leigh Jensen, governmental relations associate for Arizona School Boards Association.
“The Legislature has to vote to allow districts to spend the money that was approved in the budget in July, because that amount is over the aggregate expenditure limit,” Jensen said. “There is $1.2 billion at stake that would be cut from the K-12 education budget if this doesn’t happen by March.”
What is the aggregate expenditure limit?
In 1980, Arizona voters passed a measure that limits how much K-12 schools can spend in a school year, which was done when the state implemented its school funding formula, said Education Forward Arizona in a summary released Dec. 1, 2021. This limit is known as the aggregate expenditure limit, which is the total amount that K-12 schools are spending statewide each year.
The aggregate expenditure limit changes each year based on the previous year’s school enrollment and inflation, charter schools aren’t included since they weren’t around in 1980, and most school funds count towards the limit with the exceptions of federal COVID relief funding (ESSER), other federal grants, and budget overrides, among other funds, Education Forward Arizona said.
Why is this happening this year?
The aggregate expenditure limit is at the forefront of education advocates’ discussions this year for three reasons:
- It was projected that the aggregate expenditure limit would decrease because of lower student enrollment last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The legislature left out a provision to exempt from the aggregate expenditure limit the funds generated by the 2018 renewal of Prop. 301’s six-tenths of a cent sales tax to support education.
- The restoration over the past several years of district and charter additional assistance that was cut during the Great Recession is also included in the aggregate expenditure limit.
To raise the aggregate expenditure limit for one year, Arizona Legislators would have to approve a bill doing so with a two-thirds vote.
How much is at stake?
The Arizona Department of Education created the report below that shows how much each Arizona public school district would have to cut if Arizona legislators do not raise the aggregate expenditure limit.
“As of now, we don’t even know which legislators would agree to sponsor these bills,” Jensen said.
“The rest of these issues below are byproducts of the current political climate, which are concerning in their own unique ways, but we are facing an enormous financial cliff and that’s our biggest concern for this year,” Jensen said.
“If this doesn’t get solved, it would be a truly drastic cut to education and threaten extracurriculars, specialized programs like Advanced Placement/ International Baccalaureate, reductions in workforce, and 2008-style budget reductions would be necessary in many districts,” Jensen said.
#2 House Bill 2009
Education advocates seek to prevent the approval of House Bill 2009, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, which would require the Attorney General to investigate any official action taken by a school district or charter school governing board that a member of the Legislature alleges violates state law or the state Constitution and requests the Attorney General to investigate.
If the Attorney General determines that has been a violation, they must notify the school district or charter school of the violation by certified mail and the violation is not resolved within 30 days, the Attorney General is required to notify the Arizona Department of Education to withhold 10 percent of the monthly Classroom Site Fund monies that the school district or charter school is eligible to receive, with some exceptions, for each month the violation continues.
House Bill 2009 is based on an existing 2016 statute that empowers the attorney general to investigate actions by cities and counties, complete with the same ability to cut off state funding, reports Capitol News Media.
Rep. Kaiser said he decided to seek expansion of that law after school districts decided not to comply with the law included in the state budget that prohibited schools requiring students and staff to wear masks on campus, according to Capitol News Media.
In addition, the Attorney General is required to continue to monitor the response of the school district or charter school, and when the violation is resolved, they must notify the Governor and the Legislature, and to notify the Arizona Dept. of Education to stop withholding monies.
House Bill 2009 also states that a school district or charter school that has Classroom Site Fund monies withheld is prohibited from reducing the pay or benefits of an employee who is a teacher, instructional staff, or classified staff in any manner during the same fiscal year that the monies were withheld.
#3 House Bill 2011
Education advocates encourage Legislators to block passage of House Bill 2011, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, which would require public schools to obtain signed, written consent from a student’s parent or guardian before allowing a student to participate in any school student group or club involving sexuality, gender, or gender identity.
In addition, HB 2011 would allow parents of a student in a public school to have the right to review the formational documents of any school student group or club involving sexuality, gender, or gender identity.
#4 Senate Bill 1010
Education advocates encourage Legislators to vote against Senate Bill 1010, sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, which would change the current nonpartisan school governing board elections in Arizona into partisan elections with a partisan primary followed by a general election.
If approved by Legislators, SB 1010 would apply to school district governing board elections held on or after January 1, 2023.
While Sen. Ugenti-Rita said SB 1010 would help voters understand the political positions of who they elect as school board members, Tucson Unified School District Board member Adelita Grijalva disagrees, KJZZ News 91.5 FM reports.
“We can disagree on specific issues. But making whether we’re going to try to keep our children safe a political position has been incredibly frustrating. This has just been another way to create more partisanship in our pretty fractured community,” Grijalva said to KJZZ.
SB 1010 also contains a provision that would prohibit a school district from ejecting from school property or the location of a school board meeting, and from taking any other adverse action against a person or a group engaging in peaceful protest after school hours that does not pose an obvious threat to people, does not damage school property and does not interfere with or disrupt activities where a school board meeting is taking place.
The bill also states that a school district cannot require a person or a group of people to apply, request a permit or secure any other form of authorization to engage in peaceful protesting on school property after school hours or near where a school meeting is taking place after school hours.
For the past several months, school boards around the state have been the target of protests largely about school mask mandates that disrupted meetings and posed a threat to school board members as well as members of the community attending the meetings.
#5 Senate Bill 1011
Education advocates also seek to block passage of Senate Bill 1011, sponsored by Sen. Kelly Townsend, which would prohibit school districts from using tax money to pay for membership in a state school board association or a national school board association.
Sen. Townsend filed the bill after Arizona School Boards Association did not withdraw from the National School Boards Association after the national organization sent a letter to President Joe Biden in late September saying confrontations at school board meetings have many school board members fearing for their safety and asking for help from federal law enforcement after comparing these actions to domestic terrorism and hate crimes, National Public Radio reported.
Weeks later, NSBA apologized for the letter and some of the language used in it and said they “deeply value not only the work of local school boards that make important contributions within our communities, but also the voices of parents, who should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health and safety.”