Governor Ducey’s budget for education still below 1998 funding levels – a lost generation

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Red for Ed: Never Forget

Update to Arizona’s GOP leaders have no serious plans to make up for the ‘lost decade’ of budget cuts.

Governor Doug Ducey released his proposed budget on Friday. He is proposing a $12.3 billion spending plan that includes $608 million in new K-12 funding, funding that still won’t restore state aid to education to where it was in 2008, some twelve years ago. Ducey’s $12B budget proposal includes $608M in new funding for K-12:

About $145 million of that is in legally required adjustments to state aid funding formulas to account for inflation and student growth. And another $175 million is the last payment in the boost in teacher pay promised and approved in 2018 in the wake of a teacher strike.

Still, there is new money for things like ensuring more schools get money to hire social workers, school counselors and school resource officers, the last category being sworn peace officers. That will help fund 461 requests for such aid made this year before the allocated funds ran out.

And Ducey wants to accelerate restoration of money taken from schools in previous years, including by him, from an account that funds everything from computers and books to school budgets.

The Arizona Republic’s resident GOP apologist and propagandist Robert Robb wants you to give hosannahs and high praise to Governor Ducey for restoring funding that he previously cut in violation of a settlement agreement. Sorry, but one is not worthy of praise for agreeing to stop violating the law. Gov. Doug Ducey wants to restore school funding cuts this year. Why was that overlooked?

The most consequential line in Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address was largely overlooked. It was this: “And a full, complete and accelerated restoration of flexible funding – two years ahead of schedule.”

The reference is to a K-12 funding source known as Additional Assistance.

AA is allocated to districts and charters on a per-pupil basis. Originally, it was restricted to what is known in education wonk circles as “soft capital” – things such as books and desks. But the Legislature long ago lifted this restriction. Now it can be used for whatever schools decide is most important.

However, unlike the main funding source for K-12 education, basic state aid, AA wasn’t voter protected. And it was severely cut to cope with the effect of the last recession.

A few legislative sessions ago, Ducey proposed phasing in a restoration over five years. This is the second year of the phase in. Next year would be the third.

[The Governor’s budget] indicates fully restoring AA funding next year.

This is a big deal, both in terms of the bucks involved and the effect it should have on education finance litigation and debate.

The acceleration would produce an additional $135 million for schools next year, compared to the phased-in amount. All told, the schools would be receiving $371 million more from this single source than they were receiving four years ago.

Key: Some school districts filed a lawsuit [in 2017] claiming that the cuts in AA and SFB funding violated the settlement that closed the court case. [In 1994, he Arizona Supreme Court held that the statutory financing scheme for public education violated the Arizona Constitution, Article XI, § 1, Roosevelt Elem. School Dist. No. 66  v. Bishop (No. CV-93-0168 1994), and the state entered into a settlement agreement].

The full restoration of AA funding and reasonably robust appropriations for the SFB should mean the end of the lawsuit. If not, the state will be in a strong position to win in court for a change. [Restoring the funding level does not include restitution for past funding wrongfully stolen by the GOP legislature, you partisan hack.]

There also is a plan to put $44 million into what’s being called Project Rocket, a program to give $150-per-student grants on a first-come, first-served basis, to certain low-performing schools and schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty.

In the Avondale school district, which already got some of that money, aides to the governor said the extra funding resulted in a 13% increase in students passing the English achievement exam and an 18% boost in the math passing rate. They said similar results were achieved in the Deer Valley and Wickenburg school districts.

That $44 million would be enough to help only about a quarter of the number of school sites in the state.

* * *

[A]ccording to Ducey’s budget, the state aid per student this coming year will be $6,156. Aides to the governor concede that still doesn’t bring the state funding up to where it was in the 2007-2008 school year before the Great Recession — at $4,996 — after accounting for inflation.

Using $45 million for tax relief for veterans versus K-12 funding may not be the only issue some lawmakers have with Ducey’s plan to eliminate income taxes for military pensions.

EXTRA STUDENT FUNDING FOR SOME

And there’s something else in Ducey’s education spending plan.

While the governor’s budget sets aside an extra $150 per pupil for certain low-performing schools, he wants even more per student in “results-based funding” for those schools that also are doing well.

That includes at least $225 per student for about 500 schools that already have an A letter grade and a low percentage of students in poverty, as reflected by eligibility for free or reduced lunch costs, and $400 per student for about 250 A-rated schools where at least 60% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch costs.

B-rated schools with 60% eligible for free and reduced lunch also would get an extra $225 per student under the governor’s plan.

Ducey’s budget also contains funding for some new schools as well as additional dollars for previously approved buildings to recognize that construction costs are higher than anticipated.

That includes an extra $4.7 million for an already approved new high school for Chandler and $1.6 million for a Grade 7-12 school in the Tanque Verde school district in Tucson.

The governor’s spending plan also promises money for four new schools, including a K-6 facility in Tanque Verde, K-8 schools in Laveen and Buckeye, and a high school for Yuma.

And of course, Ducey, Senate GOP call for more money to speed up ESA voucher approvals:

Ducey’s budget plan, which calls for the most spending in state history, includes $960,000 to create a “student and parent support center” for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts that would include five customer service representatives to answer questions about the program and the application process.

That would allow five existing ESA program specialists to “focus solely on the timely processing of applications.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are calling for adding $1 million to hire 13 new employees to manage ESAs. The lawmakers also have other policy changes related to ESA administration, including eliminating a statutory 5% set-aside to pay for administrative costs for the program. Funding for oversight would instead be an ongoing part of the budget.

Although the ESA program is designed so that administration and oversight is self-funding, the education department can’t spend that money without legislative approval – and lawmakers have never given full funding.

They also haven’t increased the funding since 2018, even as the number of students receiving ESA vouchers has grown by 63%.

Like Ducey’s proposal, the Senate GOP plan also would create a dedicated call center staffed by five employees who would exclusively take calls for the ESA program. The Senate budget also calls for a “case management approach” to handling applications so families applying to the ESA program have a main point of contact during the process.

And two accounting staff would be added to ensure that transactions that are a part of the program are approved in a timely manner. Those staffers would also conduct seminars and training for families across the state, “particularly in rural and remote communities.”

The Arizona Republic’s Laurie Roberts got it right: Is Gov. Doug Ducey poised to stiff Arizona’s children (again, that is)?

With the economy booming and money pouring into the state, I had hoped to see this governor at long last commit to investing in our kids as we did a generation ago. Or at least making a major push toward that goal.

Everybody knows the story of how Arizona’s public schools were decimated by budget cuts when the Great Recession hit.

How the recession ended but the money somehow never made its way back to the schools. Instead, it went into corporate tax cuts and our kids were forced to wait. Some money was returned after the courts ordered it and more after teachers staged an all-out Red for Ed revolt.

But for the rest of it, our children are waiting still.

This year, the state is investing $271 less on a child’s education than it did in fiscal 2008 when adjusted for inflation, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The result is a state that can’t keep teachers and can’t afford counselors. A place where our kids are stuffed into overcrowded classrooms taught by under qualified instructors.

Meanwhile, we have a budget surplus that is $700 million and growing and $1 billion sitting in the bank awaiting a rainy day.

And we have a governor who apparently just doesn’t believe your child’s future is worth the extra $271.

* * *

It is a sad fact that though happy days are here again, today’s Arizona student still is being stiffed to the tune of $271.

Julie Erfle at the Arizona Mirror adds, Ducey’s bold plan for Arizona? A return to 2008 spending…eventually:

If you watched the governor’s State of the State address on Monday or viewed his flashy promotional video, you might believe Arizona’s problems are a thing of the past.

As we learned, the economy is roaring! Schools are getting boatloads of money! Jobs are everywhere! The average Arizonan earns $70,000! (The governor failed to note this claim refers only to select, high-income jobs that qualify for state tax incentives.)

Gov. Ducey needs us to believe this fantasy is reality.

Why?

Because otherwise we’d see through the pretty images and fancy talk about how Arizona is a leader among states. We’d realize the governor isn’t setting forth a bold, new vision for Arizona’s future, but rather placing us on a path to move back in time, specifically one more in line with the budget priorities of 2008, when a Democratic governor led the state.

I can’t say I blame the governor for wanting to rewind the mistakes of the last decade. I miss the days when schools had a teacher in every classroom and students didn’t exceed the number of desks.

I just find it completely duplicitous that Ducey would use the first part of his speech to chastise the so-called “spending lobby” for wanting a return to pre-recessionary spending, then use the rest of his speech to tout all the ways he plans to get us closer to a pre-recessionary budget.

As evidence, look where Ducey indicated plans to spend most of this year’s surplus dollars. He isn’t launching a host of new programs, but rather attempting to make old priorities and agencies whole.

In other words, to move forward, we must first move backwards.

In education, Ducey wants to restore funding Republicans cut from district and charter school additional assistance, flexible money schools can use for things such as textbooks or technology, as well as the cuts his administration made to career and technical education programs.

He’s also proposing to give rural community colleges a partial restoration of monies for workforce development, though he’s still committed to zeroing out funding for urban community colleges.

Pay increases are once again expected for corrections officers and teachers in hopes another round of raises will ease the shortages.

But what Ducey and his allies fail to understand is that this crisis is about more than subpar salaries. Educators and corrections officers are also dealing with deteriorating working conditions that include overcrowding, lack of adequate resources, crumbling buildings and broken cell door locks, and dangerously high levels of lead in school drinking water, among other things.

* * *

I can’t help but wonder how much better off this state would be had our Legislature and Republican governors taken a more responsible approach to the recession.

Imagine if, instead of slashing taxes and creating more carve outs for corporations and special interests while also slashing critical services and programs, our leaders had attempted to balance both sides of the ledger.

Instead of talking about how to keep teachers in classrooms, we might be talking about how to compete with classrooms regionally and nationally.

The miscalculations of our past are still costing us today, and I shudder to think what will happen if another recession hits in the next year or two. How do we weather a storm when we’re still working to clean up the mess created by the last one?

Let’s hope voters pay closer attention to the decisions being made at the state Capitol. Let’s hope next election they choose decisionmakers capable of moving us beyond 2008.

Not hope, VOTE! Do something about it.




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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Republicans do not understand how the future works.

    In the future, meaning in just a few years or in a few decades, the children we do not educate now will be running the country.

    So what Ducey and the Republicans are literally doing is destroying the future not just for these kids, but for America.

    All so their wealthy donors can hoard more money they don’t need.

    Oh, yeah, where I live the schools are highly rated, which increases my property values, so what Ducey is also doing is screwing over Arizona property owners.

  2. Cuts are actually increases. Vouchers save money. Tax cuts increase economic development. Voters love vouchers. Zip codes have no relationship to student achievement.

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