Video: Gov. Ducey calls for more school choice in State of the State, no mention of lifting expenditure limit - AZEdNews
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Video: Gov. Ducey calls for more school choice in State of the State, no mention of lifting expenditure limit

Gov. Doug Ducey Delivers His State Of The State Address In The Arizona House Of Representatives On Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Photo Courtesy Of Arizona Capitol Television

Gov. Doug Ducey called for more bills expanding school choice, outlined a summer camp to help students behind in math and English, but he did not mention of the most urgent matter for education advocates – encouraging the Arizona Legislature to increase the aggregate expenditure limit for public schools before March 1, 2022, during his State of the State address today on the Arizona Legislature‘s Opening Day.

Click here to read a transcript of Gov. Ducey’s State of the State Speech

If the aggregate expenditure limit is not raised by then, 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.

To raise the aggregate expenditure limit for one year, Arizona Legislators would have to approve a bill doing so with a two-thirds vote.

An Arizona Center for Economic Progress report says “The spending limit is antiquated and based on what school needs were like in 1980. That is evident by the fact that Arizona is hitting the spending limit this year despite Arizona school funding being the lowest in the nation.” 

A December 2021 poll conducted by Highground Public Affairs Consultants indicates that 73 percent of Arizona voters polled said they support the Arizona Legislature “providing an exemption to the outdated school spending limit.” The poll was sponsored by The Arizona Center for Economic Progress and Save Our Schools Arizona.

Arizona Capitol Television video: Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State Address Jan. 10, 2022

“The State of our State is strong,” Gov. Ducey said. “We have more citizens, our budget is balanced, our economy is roaring and our government is smaller and more efficient than it’s ever been.”

“We are sitting atop a surplus of several billion dollars, fueled not by tax increases – but by the opposite: historic economic growth,” Gov. Ducey said.

“Arizona’s economy is strong now, but how long will that strength last with an education system that is struggling under the weight of the COVID pandemic?” said Rich Nickel, president and CEO of Education Forward Arizona.

“With the new year and the start of the legislative session, Arizona leaders have an opportunity to put politics aside to focus on what matters in Arizona: helping our students succeed, but we didn’t hear a lot of proposals today to accomplish that,” Nickel said.

“We’re intrigued by the proposal to engage community colleges on advanced manufacturing, but are left wanting more to support the success of Arizona students and educators, P-20,” Nickel said.

“An 8-week summer camp is helpful, however, it is going to take sustained support for our students to catch up on interrupted learning from the pandemic for multiple years,” Nickel said.

“If we truly want Arizona to be unstoppable, our priority should be increasing education attainment, P-20. Increasing our attainment rate to the national average would generate over $7B for Arizona’s economy,” Nickel said.

“What should be done this year to this end? Priorities should be to address the aggregate expenditure limit immediately, solve for the teacher and substitute shortages in early and in K-12 education, expand opportunities for students to pursue postsecondary education (dual enrollment and the Arizona Promise Program), and ramp up support for literacy to help students needing it the most,” Nickel said.

The Arizona Center for Economic Progress report said, “Arizona’s public schools are already struggling to deal with educating and keeping students and staff healthy and safe during the pandemic, and with one of the worst teacher shortages in the nation. Requiring public schools to reduce their budgets by as much as 17 percent with only three months remaining in their school year would be devastating for Arizona’s students.”

Gov. Ducey delivered his speech on the floor of the House of Representatives in person this year, despite a sharp increase cases of COVID-19 in the state right now. year, Gov. Ducey delivered his address via video from his office as COVID-19 cases remained high. 

Gov. Ducey will release the details of his budget proposal on Friday.

“This year we are going to double down on what works,” Gov. Ducey said. “We will let people keep their hard earned money. We will cut taxes.”

Key education proposals in State of the State

K-12 education is one of the reasons many elected officials ran for office in the first place, Gov. Ducey said.

“But as an outsider, it was striking to me when I got to this capitol, that our school discussions weren’t about what kids actually learned, bureaucrats were competing for who could spend more money. Fewer dollars were going to the classroom, and instead lining the pockets of trial attorneys,” Ducey said.

“But we pressed forward, positioning Arizona as the Number One school choice state in the nation,” Gov. Ducey said.

Gov. Ducey said he supports expanding school choice, or vouchers that pay for students private education with public taxpayers’ money, and encouraged Legislators to file more bills.

“This session, let’s expand school choice any way we can — greater open enrollment, new transportation models, more charter schools and more educational freedom for families, especially those in failing schools or who can’t afford to pick up and move to a new neighborhood,” Gov. Ducey said. “Let’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice. Send me the bills, and I’ll sign them.their parent’s choice, and I’ll sign them.”

“When COVID hit, that designation was a lifeline for families,” Gov. Ducey said. “Some school leaders did everything possible to keep kids in the classroom, but too often politics and virtue signalling took center stage. In the process, more parents got involved.”

“Some voted moving with their feet, moving schools or school districts and to totally different learning models, whether that’s home schooling or microschools,” Gov. Ducey said.

“But other families have seen their kids fall behind,” Gov. Ducey said. “There’s been too much attention put on masks and not nearly enough placed on math. A focus on restrictions rather than reading and writing, and it’s students of color and those in poverty by the COVID-era posturing and politics of some school board bureaucrats.”

Gov. Ducey called for all curriculum and academic materials to be put online so that every parent and concerned citizen could search and review it.

“Come June we’re launching a summer camp with an emphasis on catching kids up in key areas – math, reading and American civics. We will lead the way to eliminate learning loss,” Gov. Ducey said.

Gov. Ducey plans to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to make 8-week in-person summer learning camps free of charge for students in need who have a need for academic support and attend an Arizona public school.

“Arizona schools are open and will remain open,” Gov. Ducey said.

“In Arizona schools we will not divide people by race,” Gov Ducey said. “Arizona schools should be instructing our kids in The Golden Rule to treat one another with respect and judge people as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”

Gov. Ducey proposed that Arizona university and community college tuition and fees be waived for the spouses of veterans, and the Arizona Board of Regents voiced support for that proposal.

Maricopa County Community College District Chancellor Dr. Steven R. Gonzales said the district “appreciates the Governor recognizing community colleges as the workforce solution for the state through quality education.”

“Gov. Ducey’s address included a plan that provides targeted investments to establish six advanced manufacturing training centers facilitated by community colleges across the state,” Chancellor Gonzales said.

“With collaboration among government, industry, and academia, these workforce accelerators will form a network of job training centers to prepare Arizonans for next-generation jobs. Arizona’s advanced manufacturers will partner on the project, streamlining the student-to-skilled-labor pipeline and ensuring skills training aligns with in-demand jobs,” Chancellor Gonzales said.

The Maricopa Community Colleges have been working hard to ensure its readiness to meet the workforce needs of the rapidly expanding semiconductor manufacturing employers. New programs will be ready to launch this Spring, Chancellor Gonzales said.

“Investment in advanced manufacturing creates opportunities to better our community offerings and support programs that allow for the highest levels of academic success,” Chancellor Gonzales said. “We applaud Governor Ducey’s and the Legislature’s efforts in funding programs that help propel college students from classrooms into careers and for the continued support for issues important to our students, community, and Arizona’s employees.”

“We look forward to the continued collaboration with industry leaders and Governor Ducey’s office. Our System will continue to support and strengthen Arizona’s economy by training students with the skills needed to succeed in today’s workforce,” Chancellor Gonzales said.

A focus on water

In addition, Gov. Ducey said he, Senate President Karen Fann, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers are focused on investment in Arizona’s water technology and infrastructure.

“One area where our work clearly isn’t done is on water. We passed a monumental policy that we were told would never happen – the Drought Contingency Plan. After that one, I determined – in Arizona, if we can do this, we can do just about anything. Then last year, with Speaker Bowers’ leadership, we put our money where our mouth is: $200 million to invest in the water technology of the future,” Gov. Ducey said.

“Now, with resources available in our budget, a relationship with Mexico that we’ve built and strengthened over the last seven years, and the need clear – what better place to invest more? Instead of just talking about desalination – the technology that made Israel the world’s water superpower – how about we pave the way to make it actually happen? So Speaker Bowers, President Fann and I have been working, and we propose that we make a historic investment: $1 billion,” Gov. Ducey said. “Our goal: Secure Arizona’s water future for the next 100 years.”

“Our state has grown and thrived because of the foresight of past leaders on this issue – Carl Hayden, Barry Goldwater, Bruce Babbitt and Jon Kyl. The result: the Central Arizona Project, the Salt River Project, the Hoover Dam, the Roosevelt Dam. Now it’s our turn, our moment, to leave this state better than we found it. Let’s rise to the occasion,” Gov. Ducey said.

Democratic leaders’ budget priorities

At 9:30 a.m. today, Senate and House Democratic leaders presented their 2022 Blueprint for a Better Arizona in the Rose Garden before the new legislative session starts and Gov. Ducey’s address. It will be available online later today.

Facebook video: Arizona Senate and House Democratic Leaders present their 2022 Blueprint for a Better Arizona

“Later today, Gov. Ducey will deliver his final State of the State address, and we sincerely hope to find areas of common ground to address the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still spreading, still taking lives, still impacting our hospitals, our schools our economy and still devastating our most vulnerable communities,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding.

“Today, we are releasing our Blueprint for a Better Arizona,” Rep. Bolding said. “The bottom line is this, our caucuses are united around an agenda that invests in what matters to Arizonans, working families, and provides opportunities for all.”

“Thanks to a growing national economy spurred by democratic investments and pandemic relief infrastructure, unemployment is low, incomes are rising, and we have the state resources to make a real difference for schools, our most vulnerable communities and our economy,” Bolding said.

“Last session at this same time, we had lost 10,000 Arizonans to COVID. Today, we’ve lost over 20,00o. One in 300 Arizonans are dead from COVID, and it’s the number one cause of death in our state,” said Arizona Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios. “We must address the COVID pandemic and it’s ongoing repercussions.”

“Our main goal is make sure that the remaining share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act Funds that congressional Democrats delivered to Arizona goes to these communities,” Sen. Rios said. “More needs to be done to make sure these funds make it to where they belong which is will the people of Arizona.”

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“Meanwhile, the governor is focus on attacking teachers instead of the virus, and promoting school vouchers instead of promoting policies to slow down the pandemic,” Sen. Rios said. “But our priorities have never been clearer as we enter the third year of this pandemic. We are absolutely committed to slowing the spread of this pandemic, providing resources and relief to working families, and we remain committed to expanding justice, equity and prosperity for all Arizonans.”

Sen. Rios said Democratic legislators will also “fight against more tax handouts for the rich” as Republican legislators indicate they may revisit the flat tax they passed in last year’s session that is the target of a voter referendum led by the Invest in Arizona coalition of education, children and faith advocates.

“This session is a new chance for us to come together to focus on the future and fight for issues, public health, voting rights, strong schools, clean air and water and impact the lives of every Arizonan,” Sen. Rios said.

Earlier today, Sen. Rios said she’s concerned that Republicans will seek to pass the budget without support from Democrats.

Republican leaders’ plans may include special session

Republican lawmakers have indicated they’d like to call a special session for COVID-19-related and other laws included in last session’s budget that the Arizona courts ruled violated the state constitution that a bill’s title must accurately reflect what’s in it.

A special session would let laws take effect more quickly than the usual 120 days later, and Gov. Ducey has said he’s open to the idea of a special session, The Arizona Republic reports.

Some Republican lawmakers are indicating that action on increasing the aggregate expenditure limit for schools may depend on the Arizona courts’ decisions on Prop. 208, an initiative voters approved in 2020 to levy an income tax surcharge on the high earners that would benefit education.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and House Majority Leader Ben Toma have indicated they may repeal and replace the flat tax they approved last session with a new bill this session.

Key issues for education advocates

Education advocates are focusing their efforts on encouraging the Arizona Legislature to increase the aggregate expenditure limit for public schools before 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.

Video: Gov. Ducey calls for more school choice in State of the State, no mention of lifting expenditure limit Leigh-Jensen
Leigh Jensen

“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 Arizonin 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.

In addition, Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said he’d like “Legislators to understand is that every time they write a bill, and it gets heard in committee, they’re speaking to educators. They’re saying this is what we want to see you do or this is what we want to see schools do. This is not the year maybe to try grand new initiatives.”

“We need to focus on having safe schools, on having accessibility to them, being responsive to parents, and we need to focus on working inside the community,” Thomas said, noting this would be a good year to see fewer education bills.

 Arizona School Boards Association Director of Governmental Relations Chris Kotterman said, “What we do really need to work on is making sure that the (state school funding) formula is adequate for students to meet their needs where they’re at.”

“The two main ways we can do that are looking at special education and looking at what we call a poverty weight or an opportunity weight. Those two issues if you can address them – and third would be English Language Learners I think that we still have some work to do there,” Kotterman said.

“Those three areas in Arizona schools statewide, if you can bump those levels to where they need to be in order to serve those students needs in combination with federal funds, you free up a lot of money that should be going to regular ed students that needs to go to those students,” Kotterman said.