Arizona has shorted its public school students for years, raiding Prop. 301 funds to “balance” the state budget. This is the basis of Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey (now DeWit), the lawsuit over voter-mandated inflation funding that’s owed to school districts. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the legislature violated the law. The trial court has entered a judgment that says Arizona owes about $330 million a year going forward. Still pending is a decision on the back payments portion of the judgment, which could exceed $1.3 billion if the state has to pay for what schools were shorted during the Great Recession.
The Governor and our lawless Tea-Publican legislature have failed to settle this lawsuit, and intend to exhaust the appeals process to the bitter end. They will then tell the Court, “you have entered your judgment, now let’s see you enforce it,” creating a constitutional crisis. They have no intention of ever paying the judgment.
The Arizona Republic reported on Sunday that Arizona is also shorting its school districts and charter schools an estimated $381 million a year in underfunded mandates for students with special needs. Arizona shorting schools millions for special education:
Educators say the costs have only exploded since 2007, as more students are diagnosed with special needs and the cost of services rises.
One district analyst calculated a $381 million gap between what the state provided and what it took to properly fund the education of students with disabilities last year. Others have estimated the gap has surpassed $400 million a year.
Solving this problem is among the recommendations Gov. Doug Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council is considering as it overhauls the state’s byzantine 35-year-old school funding formula. The council has been charged with developing a plan to fund public school students equally, whether they attend district, charter, online or technical programs.
Currently, for example, charter schools get more state money per student, but don’t receive funding for things such as student transportation. Charters also can’t access local tax dollars through bonds and overrides the way district schools do.
Read the entire report for more analysis.
You can see where this is headed . . . Gov. Doug Ducey’s Classrooms First group to announce funding ideas:
Gov. Doug Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council is expected to release its initial recommendations on how to overhaul the state’s complicated school funding formula Tuesday. It will be a surprise if they include many surprises.
The group, which is relatively evenly split between members with district school connections and those with charter school connections, has spent three months analyzing the formula. The last group to overhaul the formula, 25 years ago, spent more than year working on it.
The council has relied heavily on its advisers, most of whom lean strongly toward school choice options. In addition to Arizona district and charter organizations, advisers include the Center for School Funding Portability at the Reason Foundation, the Goldwater Institute and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education [i.e., public school privatization for corporate profit organizations].
It will be no surprise if the recommendations include a formula that provides the same money per student regardless of the type of school, gives principals more control over their school’s money and allocates money based at least partially on academic performance.
If you have a sense of foreboding about what the recommendations will be on Tuesday, your concerns are well justified.
The funding formula recommendations follow on the heels of Governor Ducey’s plan to raid the state trust-land earnings for education to boost classroom funding temporarily for 10 years. State Tresurer Jeff DeWit says the governor’s plan is reckless and irresponsible. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit blasts ‘Team Ducey’.
Tea-Publican legislative leaders want to double down on the governor’s reckless plan by also raiding money from First Things First, which voters established to fund improvements in child care for all Arizona children. GOP lawmakers push new Arizona education-funding plan. This plan also boost classroom funding temporarily for 10 years.
Both proposals to raid trust-land funds and to raid First Things First require voter approval , something that voters have refused to do in the past when it has been previously proposed. Both programs are temporary, and will result in an education funding fiscal cliff in 2026. It is the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” plan to kick the can down the road to a future governor and legislature.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas has offered a third proposal that addresses the immediate fiscal needs of the school districts. She proposes to increase funding by $400 million drawn from the budget surplus and rainy day fund as part of her “AZ Kids Can’t Afford to Wait! Plan.” Superintendent Douglas: Arizona Kids Can’t Afford to Wait for Funding (.pdf).
None of these plans are intended as a settlement the Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey lawsuit, however. Nor should the state’s school districts accept these weak proposals as a settlement. that would be short changing Arizona’s children as well.