School districts across the state have tightened their belts as the Arizona Legislature cut per student funding for the past five years due to the recession and slow economic recovery.
Over the last four years, nearly $40 million in capital funds and approximately $15 million in building renewal was cut from the Peoria Unified School District, said Ken Hicks, chief financial officer.
“These cuts have been compounded by the lack of funding increases in the maintenance and operations fund,” Hicks said. “Peoria Unified School District is committed to providing the best educational program for our community, and the cuts in capital funds have put a huge strain on our ability to make those innovative investments as well as support the existing programs.”
When state, local and federal spending is combined, Arizona spending per student dropped $809 from fiscal year 2008, or 8.4 percent, to an estimated $8,769 in fiscal 2013, and the state’s portion of per student funding dropped $962 from 2008, or 19.5 percent, to $3,958 in 2013, according to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee report.
“If these numbers were adjusted for inflation the calculated reductions would be much higher.” said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “No matter how you look at it, the per student reductions are significant.”
Arizona lost a lot of its revenue during the recession due to the drop in the housing market, so state funding was cut significantly, and since education is such a large part of the state budget, schools were heavily impacted, Essigs said.
This fiscal year, Arizona’s per student spending is estimated to rise by $157, or 3.95 percent, to $4,115, Essigs said. When state, local and federal funding is combined, per pupil spending will increase $78, or .9 percent, to $8,847 per student this year.
“It’s the first time that the legislature has provided inflation funding for the operation part of school districts budgets since 2008,” Essigs said.
Arizona ranks 47th in the nation in per student spending, above only Oklahoma, Idaho and Utah, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Education Finances 2011 Report released in May 2013.
Increasing per student spending will make Arizona more competitive in attracting businesses and better jobs, said Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor (D-27), a member of the Arizona Legislature’s senate education committee.
“The economy is doing better, we’re not anywhere close to where we were in 2008, yet the legislature has not restored any of the cuts to K-12 education,” Essigs said. “At least this year, they did not make any additional ones, which is good news, but they really haven’t restored the cuts they had to make.”
Humboldt Unified School District, which serves students in Prescott Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, lost $10 million in funding over the past five years due to state budget cuts and declining enrollment, Superintendent Paul Stanton said.
In response, the district froze staff wages, increased health care eligibility for part-timers, required tax credit donations to support middle school sports, cut 75 teachers and 55 classified employees through reduction in force and attrition, increased class sizes, eliminated spending on textbooks, technology, library and other soft capital items, increased pay-to-play tax credit for athletics, reduced supplies budgets and elementary music staff, Stanton said.
Rep. Heather Carter (R-15), a member of the House education committee, said schools call her office all the time about leaking roofs and broken-down air conditioners.
“The taxpayers have invested in our schools,” Carter said. “Just like you don’t want to let your home get out of maintenance, you want to make sure your schools are in good standing order.”