Arizona School Funding Should not be on the Chopping Block

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Photo from AZ Central

With the revelation that the state may have as much as a $1.1 billion budget deficit over the next two years (as well as a reduction in sales tax revenue,) the worry that vital programs that help our most vulnerable, including children, would be on the chopping block if legislators enacted, like in the foolhardy Tea Party wave in the last decade, budget cuts have resurfaced.

School Funding still has not returned to the same level of appropriations last seen in 2008.

Whenever legislators return to the State Capitol, in this session or a special one later in the year, budget cuts in education and other social justice areas like the State Medicaid program or the Housing Trust Fund should not be considered.

Many leading Education activists and candidates running for state office feel the same way.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, in a comment to the Capitol Times Morning Scoop on April 22, 2020, said (as relayed by her Communication Director Richie Taylor)

“We cannot afford more cuts to education. This is a time when we need extra resources for our schools.”

Commenting to the Arizona Republic, Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said:

“We have not even taken a step forward from where we were in 2008. Any talk of reduction just needs to go out the window.” 

Maricopa County School Superintendent Candidate Jeanne Casteen wrote:

“Educators in Arizona have seen first-hand the effects of budget cuts to our public education system over the last couple of decades (more than any other state). Arizona is consistently in the bottom three for issues like lowest teacher pay, largest class sizes, lowest teacher satisfaction and retention, and lowest per-pupil spending.”

 “Schools and districts across the state are being warned that they will see big cuts in their budgets next year, just as many felt that they were finally catching up. Considering that our schools closed for the fourth quarter of the school year, we need to maintain and even increase our education budget in the state now more than ever.” 

 “Those of us in public education are already well-aware of the inequities that exist in our county and state, but the COVID-19 crisis has amplified these disparities. In districts that serve students who live far below the poverty line, board members and educators are scrambling to ensure that they can still serve meals to families dealing with food insecurity, and districts are working hard to make sure that students have access to technology. Educators are doing the best they can to connect with all of their students regularly, but there is an alarming number of students and families in every district, one month into this crisis, that seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth.”

 “Arizona has one of the highest rates of children living in poverty (almost 25%), and in some zip codes, that number is almost double. Many of our schools in these zip codes have homeless students numbering in the hundreds, and according to DCS, the number of children in foster care in Arizona is over 19,000.” 

 “All of our public school children will have some serious catching up to do academically, and a large portion will likely experience severe hardship because of this crisis. Now is not the time to cut the funding for these children. Not only must school boards approve resolutions to continue Capital, Maintenance and Operations (M & O), and Bond Overrides, but we all must lobby our elected officials at the state level to at least maintain our education budget, and consider scrapping the limiting, harmful, and inefficient practice of current year funding.”

 “Sadly, the majority party in this state has a long track record of starving our public schools, while throwing huge sums of taxpayer dollars at for-profit charters and private schools, so I’m not optimistic that any of this will change.”

 “All this brings us to November 3rd, 2020. Now, more than ever, we need to elect pro-public education candidates to every level of government. We need school board members who will support their local bond and override initiatives. We need state legislators who will make education funding a top priority. We need county candidates who understand that a strong educational system makes for a strong state with a bright future for all. The people of Arizona can’t let this pandemic stop our momentum in 2020. We need everyone to vote for our children and their future. They deserve it.

 David Lujan, the head of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress relayed:

“Education cuts should be off the table during this economic crisis. No state cut more from public education during the Great Recession than Arizona and those cuts have not yet been fully restored. Arizona will need more resources in our public schools to help our workforce and economy emerge from this crisis. Instead of budget cuts, lawmakers should look to reverse some of the millions of dollars of tax cuts that have been passed over the past decade for corporations and the wealthy.”

 Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, the Democrat running for one of the State House seats in Legislative District Six stated:

“Arizona’s education funding is already amongst the lowest in the country, protecting the funding that there is, at all levels from pre-K through higher ed and community colleges, should be the priority.” 

 Legislative District 28 State Senator Kate Brophy McGee commented to the Arizona Republic that:

“I really think it continues to be our priority to protect and fund K-12 education.”

 Legislative District Eight House Candidate Sharon Girard wrote:

“Education in Arizona cannot take any more cuts.  Even in a pandemic.  Especially during a pandemic.  Teachers are working harder than ever, using creativity and building online learning during this difficult time.  They are out of their classrooms and working with less resources.  We cannot let them down now.   Our funding of education has not yet reached 2008 levels and we are last in the country for teacher salaries.  Our student’s education should be a priority for the state.  They are our future and they trust us to take care of them, to educate them.  Now is not the time to sacrifice their education and future, even during a crisis.  They need us now more than ever.  There are many ways to cut the budget without hurting public education.”   

State House Democratic Candidate for Legislative District Ten Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton:

“Education funding and support should be one of our top priorities in our state’s budget. We have experienced the effects of an underfunded system for too long in Arizona. Investing in the future of our state begins with a long term investment in our children. Our education professionals deserve more credit and respect for how they contribute to the growth and stability of our communities. To resort to continual cuts to education is a very short-sighted response and not a solution to budget constraints.”

Legislative District 11 Democratic Senate Candidate Gunnery Sergeant JoAnna Mendoza relayed:

“Since 2009, our state has cut more than $4.56 billion from education and continues to try to reduce funding to our schools. Education has been a top issue in Arizona, over immigration, border security, and the economy. Our school buildings throughout Arizona are crumbling and unsafe for our kids, teachers, and school staff. As a school board member for our rural school district, I’ve seen first hand how the lack of funding to repair our schools negatively impacts the ability for our kids to learn. Any time we take two steps forward in the right direction to ensure every kid can receive a quality education regardless of zip code, something happens that gives lawmakers an excuse to move us ten steps backward. This madness has to stop. Upon their return to the State Capitol, lawmakers will need to set their priorities and education needs to be one of them.”

Legislative District 11 Democratic Senate Candidate Linda Patterson wrote:

“These are challenging and unprecedented times in Arizona. If we take a look at our political environment, drastic unrest is evident. Our social systems are unraveling. And, our economic future is at a place of tremendous uncertainty.”

 “It is within this environment that we must be called upon by our better minds and hearts. Our leaders must come together with reasoned thought and hope in order to guide us through these times. We can come out of this intact if our decision-makers look beyond the crisis to lay the foundation for a better future.”

 “During the Great Recession of 2008, our leaders responded to the financial crisis of our state budget in a dark manner. It was a time of gimmicks, freezing, and decimating funding necessary for our poor children and in other vulnerable services. Educational Funding became a victim of the bloodbath that occurred.”

We can do better this time around. Arizona has A Billion Dollar Rainy Day Funds that it did not have in the 1980s. Accordingly, our state leadership can respond ethically and within reason. Better heads can and should prevail.”

 “The funding of Public Education has been decimated every year since the 1980s and is at a point now that it cannot sustain more cuts. In real dollars, educational budgets have not grown for almost 40 years. Legislative Leaders and our Governor must take a reasoned and mindful approach toward funding public education! I maintain that any cuts to education are misguided and irresponsible.”

 “I ask you to be involved in communicating this message to our legislators. Past practice indicates the majority in power does not support public education -the 95% of us who do must send a strong message to them that the future of our state is in our schools!”

 “Children Matter! Let’s create a legacy of which we can be proud.”

Kathleen Honne, a candidate for one of the State House seats in Legislative District 22 wrote:

 “I am committed to letting current elected officials handle this crisis as they deem necessary and allowing history, as well as the voters, be the judge. I hope this period of isolation has given each legislator time to reflect on the values that make Arizona great; and they return to the Capitol ready to find a way to add to the future of our children, not diminish from it! One way to do this, in light of COVID-19, would be to refer the Invest In Education Initiative directly to the November ballot. This would allow voters to make an important decision about education funding, without petition circulatory having to spend the summer in close contact with voters gathering signatures.”

Arizona’s children and most vulnerable suffered the most in the last economic downtown.

School districts across the state, many of whom are plagued with overcrowded classrooms, still (although improving) inadequately paid (and sometimes unqualified) instructors, and buildings that need repair or replacement, can not withstand another dose of budget cuts.

This is especially true considering that educators, children, and other school stakeholders, will have to find a solution to the academic quarter most students missed this year due to the Coronavirus.

Hopefully, Arizona’s public servants in the State Legislature will learn that the austerity-tax cutting policies of the past did not work and will properly access the State Rainy Day fund and federal aid that will be received so the public’s schools, children and most vulnerable will not be unduly burdened again.