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Governor’s budget proposal would partially restore additional assistance this year


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Gov. Doug Ducey Announces His Budget Proposal To Restore Additional Assistance To Public Schools Over The Next Three Years At The Arizona State Capitol On Jan. 9, 2018 Surrounded By Legislators, Superintendents, School Business Officials, Business Leaders And Education Advocates. Photo Courtesy The Office Of The Governor.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced today that his budget proposal would partially restore this year the cuts to additional assistance for district and charter schools that legislators cut during the recession, and get to the required level over the next five years, but there is no detail yet on where that money would come from or a long-term solution.

Additional assistance is a state revenue source that is used by district and charter schools to pay for classroom resources such as textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, technology, as well as school buses and other capital funding for both district and charter schools. Since fiscal year 2009, the Arizona Legislature has suspended over $2.4 billion in district and charter additional assistance.

Ducey’s plan would restore $371 million in additional assistance by fiscal year 2023. That would be approximately the amount that the formula requires in that particular fiscal year. Ducey’s proposal would restore $100 million in additional assistance in fiscal year 2019, and that would grow to $371 million in FY 2023.

Governor's budget proposal would partially restore additional assistance this year dist-cuts-including-possible-301-loss-v1

Unrestored cuts to school districts since 2009. Chart courtesy ASBA and AASBO

“These dollars will be permanent, and these dollars will be flexible so they can be used for capital, but they can also be used for teachers’ salaries,” Ducey said at the news conference on Tuesday morning.

 

Restoring the district and charter additional assistance cut from public schools over the past nine years is a priority for Arizona legislators who spoke before school leaders in November, but especially for Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek (District 5) and Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix (District 28).

On Wednesday, Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction (District 16), told The Arizona Republic, that  House Bill 2158 would permanently continue Prop. 301, a six-tenths of a percent sales tax that provides about $600 million a year to Arizona K-12 public schools, which is scheduled to expire in 2021. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix (District 28).

Ducey: One way to end the capital funding lawsuit

At the end of his news conference, Ducey said this plan is one way to end the capital funding lawsuit filed last year by four public school districts and education advocates.

The capital funding lawsuit was filed Monday, May 1, 2017 against the State of Arizona and the School Facilities Board for inadequate capital funding after lawmakers cut $2 billion since 2009 from the funds schools use to maintain buildings, buses, textbooks and technology to balance the state budget.

“We can end this lawsuit, and this is the better way to end the lawsuit through legislative collaboration with leaders inside our community,” Ducey said.  “You’ll see our entire budget on Friday, but this is a sneak peek of what’s ahead.”

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said “This is a great first step to resolve two huge issues we’ve been dealing with in this state, again capital funding and our teacher salaries and retention of those great people who are in our schools with our precious children each and every single day. And I have to tell you an added benefit that can come from this, to me, is to get money into our schools and out of the pockets and purses of lawyers.”

Jill Barragan, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told The Associated Press she would drop out if the governor’s plan is enacted, saying “I understand that what the governor’s proposing doesn’t fully address all of those things. I see that he opened a huge door here for us, and we need to take that opportunity to walk in.”

The capital funding lawsuit moves forward and to reinforce this one member of the plaintiff group, Arizona School Boards Association, shortly after the news conference sent a message out to its members affirming it.

“The funding situation of our public schools is dire; in particular our capital funding needs have gone unmet for a decade. And all Arizona school funding relates to our ability to pay teachers. The capital lawsuit addresses our needs in a way that is equitable, sustainable and consistent with what the constitution explicitly requires,” the message stated.

On Wednesday, Arizona Association of Business Officials‘ board of directors voted to withdraw as a plaintiff in the capital funding lawsuit, saying in a statement that the governor’s plan if enacted “brings immediate relief to our school districts versus waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit,” according to an article by Capitol Media Services.

School district superintendents who support the proposal

Among the school district superintendents in attendance at the news conference were Cal Baker from Vail School District, Mike Cowan from Mesa Public Schools and Camille Casteel, of Chandler Unified School District.

Mesa Public Schools is the largest school district in the state and serves about 64,000 students, Cowan said at the news conference.

“Mesa will see roughly $6 million in July 1 of 2018, if this goes forward. With $27 million once full funding is restored,” Cowan said. “This money will be used to fund important resources for our students – textbooks and technology and safe learning environments for our teachers and students. These are real dollars that will be put into the system now to help the students that we’re currently serving.”

Cowan said he is “proud to support this plan, and have great faith that our legislators and policy makers will support this significant education plan.”

Baker said school board members and superintendents in Pima County met last month and agreed that restoration of additional assistance or capital money was their absolute top priority.

“Education groups across the state have also identified capital funding as their top priority. This plan directly addresses that priority,” Baker said.

This proposal will impact all students regardless of their education choice, their socioeconomic status or place of residence, Casteel said at the news conference.

“Restoring this formula will help every child in Arizona and will provide the much needed relief immediately to the operation portion of the formula, which some districts, like ours, will be fortunate to redirect toward teacher salaries,” Casteel said.

AZ Schools Now says plan is not sustainable

Governor's budget proposal would partially restore additional assistance this year BethSimekResponseToGovsPlanCropped

Beth Simek, president of Arizona PTA said Arizona schools “need a sustainable plan they can count on with a dedicated revenue source” during the news conference Jan. 9, 2018. Photo courtesy AZ Schools Now

But AZ Schools Now, a coalition of parents, teachers, school board members, faith-based leaders, and children’s advocates, said during a news conference on Tuesday that Ducey’s five-year education funding plan failed to meet a critical test of sustainability.

“Arizona’s public schools and the students they serve are suffering under years-long neglect,” said Beth Simek, president of Arizona Parent Teacher Association. “They need a sustainable plan they can count on with a dedicated revenue source.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona, said when the governor stated in his State of the State address that he wanted to restore the long-standing cuts from the recession, the group hoped that his budget proposal would address the $1.1 billion in cuts yet to be reinstated.

“If we follow the governor’s plan, it will take another decade or longer to get us back to where we were a decade ago and will not move us out of our bottom of the barrel funding,” Penich-Thacker said.

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Reverend Andy Burnette, pastor of Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Chandler, spoke at a news conference at the Arizona Capitol on Jan. 9, 2018. Photo courtesy of AZ Schools Now.

“Our teacher shortage crisis will not improve without a serious, long-term plan to address the funding inadequacies in our budget,” said Reverend Andy Burnette, a leader with Arizona Interfaith Network and pastor of Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Chandler. “We simply do not have enough revenues to get us back to pre-recession days or move us forward in a meaningful way. We’ve cut too much and added too little.”

Legislative leaders support the plan

Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler (District 17) said he will do his best to deliver on this proposal that Ducey has made with input from legislators and education leaders, and that he looks forward “to making this a reality and doing great things, great things for our K-12 public education students and the teachers who are vital to student academic achievement.”

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler (District 17) said he was encouraged by what he heard today and looked forward to working with the governor, education, business and legislative leaders “in the coming session as we make this a reality.”

“I’ve been suggesting that we need to increase additional resources with the additional assistance part of the formula in particular. This proposal would do that,” Mesnard said. “I’m optimistic that as we go and express this to our colleagues in the House that they’re going to see this as an opportunity to do what we’ve been hoping to do, which is to continue investing more in K-12.”

Additional assistance can be used by school districts or charter schools for capital needs or where the dollars are needed most, Ducey said.

“Since fiscal year 2015, school districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by nine percent. It is clear: principals, superintendents and school board members are directing these dollars where they should go, to our dedicated teachers,” Ducey said in his State of the State address on Monday.

Ducey said he’s spent the past three years “crisscrossing the state and listening to the people who are standing here behind me and also watching the good work that they’re doing inside our schools” and that the additional funding “is needed and necessary. I said that we can always do more for our kids and teachers.”

Proposal includes an additional $300 million for schools this year

In addition, Ducey’s budget proposal would provide an additional $300 million in K-12 public school funding in fiscal year 2019. This $300 million in additional funding would be put toward the following priorities:

  • $116 million for growth in student enrollment and inflation funding, both of which are required by law,
  • $88.1 million in debt financing leveraged by $5.1 million from the General Fund to construct new schools or expand capacity
  • $35.2 million for building renewal grants to improve or repair aging school facilities (that brings the total to $51.8 million), plus $10 million in supplemental funding for additional grants in FY 2018
  • $34 million for the second year of the teacher salary increase and moving the total increase into the base level to ensure it will be adjusted for inflation every year (that brings the total to $68 million)
  • $4 million to continue expanding early literacy funding for all-day kindergarten and other critical early childhood programs
  • $2.5 million to expand the Governor’s Partnership for K-12 Computer Science pilot program that will allow schools to offer high-quality, rigorous training for new computer science teachers
  • $2 million to fully funding large Joint Technical Education Districts (JTEDs), which serve more than half of all students attending JTEDs
  • And $7.6 million in other key education investments on information technology projects and assessments.

These investments, along with a review of Arizona’s school capital guidelines, will assist in greater capacity and efficiency in managing school facilities, Ducey said.

Later this month, Ducey said he will announce a plan to spend millions on new school buses. He said he also plans to provide schools funding to hire more early intervention teachers to help students with disabilities.

“I’ve said we will never check the box on education,” Ducey said. “This proposal continues our commitment to fully restoring cuts made to schools during the Recession in a permanent and flexible way. I thank all the stakeholders and education leaders working with us to get this done and look forward to putting this needed plan into action.”

School leaders response to the additional funds in the proposal

Chandler Unified has experienced growth and strong community support, but “even with that, we have redirected dollars from operations to capital to meet the needs of our schools,” Casteel said.

“I thank Gov. Ducey, our legislative leadership for their leadership today and commitment to not only restoring the formula, but building schools, providing funds to maintain existing facilities and placing teachers’ salaries increase in the base,” Casteel said. “I know today is only the beginning of great things to come, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

In addition to restoring the capital formula, this plan also provides a significant amount of money for new schools and provides more funding for building renewal than we have seen in a decade, Baker said.

“Necessity has forced many of us to use operational dollars, the same dollars we use for teachers’ salaries to buy desks, computers, and repair school buildings,” Baker said. “This plan will address that problem.”