Prop. 123 will do little to restore education funding to K-12 schools

Last Thursday a new report from the Children’s Action Alliance, Arizona 3rd Worst in Cuts to K-12 Education, said state funding of public schools will still be $863 million below pre-recession levels, even if voters approve taking more money out of the state land trust fund to use for education. Study: Proposal won’t bring funding of AZ schools to pre-recession level:

The analysis by the Children’s Action Alliance comes as by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (.pdf) finds that Arizona cut a bigger chunk out of education funding between 2009 and 2014 than any other state. It pegged the loss in dollars at 23.3 percent.

Screenshot from 2015-12-14 13:36:58

Arizona, which was heavily dependent on revenues from population growth and construction, got hit particularly hard when the housing bubble burst.

Even with funds put back into education spending in the past two years, state aid to students in Arizona is still close to 15 percent less than in 2009 when inflation is taken into account, said Dana Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance.

In an election set for next May, voters are being asked to tap into the trust account, funds already set aside for schools, to settle a lawsuit over the failure of lawmakers to boost state aid to education annually to compensate for inflation.

But Naimark figures Proposition 123 will do little to make up for all the cuts lawmakers have made. She said even if voters approve the new funds, total aid to education will still be $600 million less than it was in 2009 in real dollars — and $863 million less if inflation is taken into account.

Education leaders who negotiated the settlement deal with Governor Ducey and GOP legislative leaders said that none of this should deter voters from supporting Proposition 123. Instead, they said Arizonans should see it like they do, as a down payment on finally properly funding schools — even though the legislature has no intentions of ever properly funding schools.

“If we’re really going to rebuild funding, then there has to be something that represents the first step,” said Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association. He said the ballot measure does that.

Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said it’s important that voters and lawmakers understand what Proposition 123 does and does not do.

“This resolves one piece of the funding formula,” he said: the mandate for annual inflation adjustments that legislators did not make for years. “But as to changing direction of school finance, it does not do that.”

But Morrill said voters being asked to support Proposition 123 on May 17 are also going to pay attention to something else: whether lawmakers approve tax cuts in the spring.

“We have an unusual situation going into this (legislative) session because voters have the opportunity to look at the Legislature, look at the agenda of the governor, and then vote,” he said.

“If we go into this legislative session, we start stripping away revenue, and we don’t have any serious conversations about other aspects of education funding that need to be restored, that may end up sending a very negative message to voters.”

Notice that Morrill stops short of saying that if the GOP legislature uses the state “surplus” for tax cuts instead of restoring funding to education, that voters should reject Prop. 123 (that he helped negotiate) and send the case back to court for further proceedings. He made his deal with the devil and he is bound to it, even though it accomplishes little.

Naimark was more pronounced in her concerns.

She pointed out the plan takes money already earmarked for K-12 schools to make up for the Legislature’s failure to meet its legal commitment to use tax dollars to make annual inflation adjustments. Naimark said voters won’t like the idea of raiding their own funds so lawmakers can use tax dollars for something else, like tax cuts.

More significant, Naimark said Proposition 123 is a temporary solution: The extra dollars it would provide disappear in 2025.

“The kids that are in kindergarten today will be in 10th grade when that money runs out,” she said. “If we have nothing (new in state funding) at the end of that, what have we done?”

Governor Ducey’s press aide, Daniel Scarpinato,  said he could provide no details regarding what more Ducey will propose in new funding.

There is no assurance there will be an across-the-board increase in per-student funding. Scarpinato cited work being done by the governor’s Classrooms First Council to provide funding “in a way that really rewards student achievement.”

“We’re going to look not just at how much we’re spending overall but are we spending it in the right areas,” he said.

There is another issue: Cutting revenues even as educators look for a permanent long-term funding increase. Ducey campaigned on a promise to propose new tax cuts every year. Again, Scarpinato said he could provide no details.

“We are still working through the budget and the legislative agenda for next session,” he said.

The Arizona Republic‘s Laurie Roberts was appropriately skeptical. Roberts: Arizona still among worst funded states for schools:

As a result of our leaders’ commitment to public education, Arizona continues to have among the worst state-funded schools in the nation.

Overall, nobody does it worse than us, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In 2014, Arizona schools got 23.3 percent less in total state funding, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 2008.

When it comes to restoring general-fund budget cuts, we’re No. 3.

Virtually every other state has done a better job than Arizona in restoring general-fund cuts made since 2008, the report says.

Still, we can say with pride that our leaders have shown a greater commitment to restoring our schools to pre-Great Recession funding levels than both Oklahoma and Alabama,  This year, Arizona schools are getting 14.9 percent less in per-student general-fund money, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 2008, the report says.

In other words, we’re still strictly a bottom-of-the-barrel state when it comes our commitment to public education. Don’t look for those rankings to dramatically change under the compromise brokered by Gov. Doug Ducey to end a school funding lawsuit — a deal that would bring the schools [only] 72 percent of the inflation funding they are owed, according to a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. That plan, to temporarily pull money from the state land trust rather than the general fund so that Ducey can continue his plan to cut taxes every year, will be on the ballot in May.

Remember, Governor Ducey and Tea-Publicans plan to run on the theme that “Tea-Publicans support education” in this special election by robbing Peter, stealing funds already set aside for K-12 schools in the state land trust for K-12 education, to only partially pay Paul, the money judgment for restitution they owe to the states’ school districts for our lawless Tea-Publican legislature’s theft of inflation adjustment funds under Prop. 301. This amounts to reaching into the school districts’ wallet to pay them with their own money for what the legislature stole — a double theft. “Tea-Publicans support education” is a  lie.

And none of this includes Governor Ducey’s plan to take funds for public schools and “gift” it to private and charter schools under his so-called Classrooms First initiative. 1 year, $24 million later, no details on Ducey school-achievement plan:

DuceyClassroomsThe Legislature gave Governor Ducey $24 million last session for an “achievement district” plan that seeks to expand schools struggling to meet demand. But no details of the plan have been publicly released. The Legislature set no criteria for how the money should be spent or how or when the money would begin flowing.

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Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council, which was charged with developing a proposal to overhaul how the state funds schools, also announced this month it needs more time for its work.

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Ducey’s achievement district idea dovetails with other policy and funding changes he is pursuing. The achievement district plan and the Classrooms First effort propose significant changes to how schools are funded. The current school funding formula gives additional money to lower-performing schools. But Ducey and Classrooms First have proposed focusing additional funding on higher-performing schools.

Classrooms First was scheduled to release its final recommendations earlier this month, so Ducey and lawmakers could introduce the proposals as legislation in January. Instead, the group asked for another six to nine months to continue its work.

Among its preliminary recommendations: new policies to make it easier for high-performing schools to expand and provide additional funding for high-performing schools instead of low-performing schools.

Or as Howard Fischer reports, Ducey plan could boost privately run charter school funding:

Nearly a year after getting $24 million from the Legislature, Gov. Doug Ducey is finally putting the finishing touches on a plan that could put more state dollars into privately run and owned charter schools.

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But for charter schools, the question becomes finding a legal way to do that. [The real reason for the delay.]

One hurdle is the “Gift Clause” of the Arizona Constitution which prohibits any donation, grant, subsidy to individuals, associations or corporations. It even bars the state from lending money to such groups.

That would appear to bar direct funding for capital needs or even providing zero- or low-interest loans to charter operators.

That is different than the state paying schools to educate children on what amounts to a pay-as-you-go basis.

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said this is more than a legal problem.

He said when taxpayers provide money for new public schools, those buildings are public property — and remain that way “in perpetuity.”
“If it’s private ownership, it may be there for five years, may be there for two years, may be there for 10 years,” Essigs said. Put another way, a charter school could go out of business while retaining the taxpayer-funded building.

He said if charter operators need money, they should pursue a “private solution.”

State schools chief Diane Douglas had similar concerns about not just capital funding but the state funds now going to charter operators. She said that, unlike officials at traditional public schools, they do not report to a locally elected school board.

“We have charter schools that are using taxpayer money with no elected oversight,” Douglas said. “That’s a concern to me.”

This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil, Arizona’s ‘education leaders.”

3 responses to “Prop. 123 will do little to restore education funding to K-12 schools

  1. The focus on “achievement” based funding by Republican lawmakers really bothers me. The most successful education systems in the world do not reward high achieving schools and students, as they are already being rewarded by their accomplishments, and they are usually the result of wealthy safe comfortable homelife and neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white and affluent. Instead these systems look at where students are failing and bring greater resources, greater funding, the best eachers and greater social support to the communities around those schools and the schools and students in order to lift those students up to the same levels as the affluent. What Arizona does is insane, it punishes the students who need the most support and rewards those who need rewards the least.

  2. Frances Perkins

    The Classroom First group was intended to provide political cover to moving more money to for profit charters. But essentially they are the Laffer Curve of school funding. It just does not compute. The premise is no new money, and the math just can’t work. He can’t even use the old “too much administration” canard, since Arizona is last in admin costs, and most of the ones left are there just to respond to legislative requirements. Doesn’t matter matter if the charter school bunch wants it. If Ducey told the truth his corporate handlers want, he would state clearly, “Do away with public schools and give all the money to for profit, non public, charter schools, for nice affluent white kids.” Maybe stick the brown poor kids in segregated poorly funded, dirt floor schools. Ducey just privately mouths the statements made for years by some in the Republican legislative caucus, “if we could just do away with public schools, and then kill taxes, that would be perfect.”