AZ Public Education Funding is Far From Fixed!

Unless you’ve had your head under a rock, you’ve probably heard about movement on the Prop. 301 Inflation Funding lawsuit. The plaintiffs (Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, and several school districts) on the public education side have agreed to the Governor’s proposed resolution, but now it is up to the AZ Legislature to vote to comply.

As with any compromise, no one got everything they wanted and there is still plenty of concern about various parts of the agreement. One of the more contentious is the Governor’s plan to increase the withdrawal percentage on the State Trust Lands Fund. AZ’s state treasurer, Jeff DeWitt, does not concur with any plan to pull more than 3.75 percent out per year, the Governor’s plan calls for 6.9 and will, says DeWitt, significantly reduce the amount of money available for public education down the road.

Public education supporters would certainly have liked to receive all districts were legally due. But, I’m guessing they think a bird in the hand trumps a bird in the bush. The real harm as far as I am concerned isn’t that the agreement wasn’t as favorable as it could have been. Rather, it is that this agreement has proven to the AZ Legislature they can defy the people’s mandate and court orders with little impunity. I am guessing they will feel emboldened by the compromise reached, which because of all the loopholes they’ve put into place doesn’t really cost them anything in terms of doing whatever they want in the long run.

Secondly, I fear the settlement of the inflation lawsuit will convey to the general public that public education funding has been fixed in Arizona. This is far from the truth, but with 45 districts’ bonds or override requests on the ballot this November, anything that drives doubt in the mind of the voters about the need could be very damaging.[i] Never mind the fact that it was the AZ Legislature that caused the necessity for local funding in the first place. After all, the Legislature made Arizona first in the nation in public education funding cuts since 2008 and these cuts just shifted the tax burden the local level in the form of bonds and overrides.   Unfortunately, this type of funding provides very little stability due to voter whim and is not the solution. An example is the Oracle School District override continuation that failed in 2013 by only 62 votes, costing the District $140,000 in funding the next year. Fortunately, the continuation passed in 2014, but numerous have had multiple years of failed override initiatives.

A big part of the problem is political. The Republican Party of Maricopa County recently announced their opposition to all 28 ballot initiatives in the Phoenix Valley, claiming that districts haven’t been fiscally responsible.[ii]  This allegation just isn’t true, as annual Auditor General Audits prove. Our public districts have also worked very hard to become more efficient and according to the AZ Office of the Auditor General 2014 report, administrative costs continue to decline. Yes, costs for plant operations, food service and transportation increased slightly,[iii] but with only two percent of the funding requirement provided for facility renovations and repairs between 2008 and 2012, increased expenses can be no surprise.

Of course, this is about much more than just our public schools. It is about an assault on our communities, our way of life and our very democracy. As Garrison Keillor said: “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a Conservative, you’re a vandal.” No offense meant to our GOP brethren who support public education.

Arizona’s school children need your support on November 3rd. Six straight years of state cuts to education combined without success in seeking locally approved funding have led four school funding referendums on the ballot in Pinal County this year. Apache Junction is seeking an M&O Override for 15 percent, J.O. Combs Unified is pursuing a bond measure for $40 million, and Florence Unified and Coolidge Unified are seeking a consolidation/boundary change. Each one of these measures is critical to providing their students the opportunities they deserve. Each of these is in fact, critical to moving our communities, our county and our state forward.

Apache Junction has been forced to operate without override funds since 2010 and J.O. Combs has been unable to pass an override continuation for three years resulting in a loss of $2 million. The Florence and Coolidge Unified consolidation/boundary change will decrease the tax rate for CUSD, provide necessary classroom space for FUSD, provide more efficient use of taxpayer monies. Tax payer monies will be saved because FUSD will accept $16 million in CUSD debt bringing three schools and 40 percent of San Tan Valley area, vs. laying out $60 million for a new high school. These ballot measures make sense, are about our children, and make long-term best interest for the voter.

Now it is up to you. Ensure you are registered to vote, get informed and then actually vote. If not for Arizona’s children, then for yourself. Arizona can’t compete if our students can’t compete. Our students can’t compete if their teachers are underpaid, their schools are poorly maintained and their technology is yesterday’s. Today’s students, are tomorrow’s leaders, whether they are ready or not.   Let’s ensure they are ready!

[i] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/education/2015/10/28/many-arizona-school-bond-override-races-face-polarized-voters/74416714/

[ii] http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/education/2015/10/28/many-arizona-school-bond-override-races-face-polarized-voters/74416714/

[iii] http://www.azauditor.gov/sites/default/files/AZ_School_District_Spending_FY2014_State_Pages.pdf

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6 thoughts on “AZ Public Education Funding is Far From Fixed!

  1. Astonishing absolutely staggering, claiming a dual system of PUBLIC education Arizona allows public funds spent on a system of privately owned and operated schools with no public accounting of how the funds are spent. No public review or disclosure of how those taxpayer dollars are spent.

    One system wide open to public review with a publicly elected Board of Governors required to publish all financial details and expected to provide education for ALL. Compared and in competition with schools offering 2/3s the same educational opportunities and responsibilities as the other.

    Bundled together you correctly point out “District Schools” are required to provide “Student Support Services” and have little or no “choice” in student admissions or parent involvements.

    Charter Schools set up to fulfill the need for “school choice” favored by politicians that are courted and financed by money given to private business interests making its way back to what amounts to publicly financed political action committees dedicated to maintaining the sorry system of dual public education systems.

    It is so difficult to believe folks in Arizona if they fully understood what is happening would approve. Education is important especially what falsely parades as “school choice”. One could only imagine Arizona schools and individual student benefits that would be available if all public funds and tax incentives were directed to one real system of public education.

    This one paragraph from TUCSON WEEKLY TOM DANEHY, Thursday, October 29, 2015, places a lot of light on the subject:

    “The school offers a fairly one-dimensional experience. I’m sure that a lot of the kids can play an instrument or chess or even soccer, but there are no sports teams so you don’t need coaches or an athletic director. They don’t have a director of Special Ed because they don’t take Special-Ed students. So where does that million bucks go? We’re not sure, because the way the law is written, they can take all that taxpayer money and then not tell us how it’s spent. This is in the best interest of … I’m not sure in whose best interest it is, but it’s certainly not in the best interest of Arizona’s taxpayers.”

  2. I’m certainly not a legal expert but it seems to me that this is far from a “bird in the hand”. The Arizona Organic Act (the federal Act that establishes Arizona as a state) clearly has been violated. The provisions for the use of Trust Land funds have not been followed. It is likely this will lead to some one or more lawsuits which will delay school districts receiving the funds.

  3. Totally interesting observation from BILL ASTLE, if that is the case why hasn’t someone challenged use of the Trust funds so far? Who benefits with such questions hanging over the school districts?

  4. Boy, Steve Farley sure got corrected and put down.
    No matter how you slice it, it still comes out as baloney.

    Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, conceded that, in actual dollars, education funding
    has increased. But he said Arizona continues to fall behind.
    “We have not increased funding for education at a rate we needed to keep up
    with student enrollment and inflation growth,” he said, with Arizona school
    enrollment growing at the second-fastest rate in the nation.
    Farley put Arizona’s per-student funding at last in the nation. Biggs responded by
    citing figures he said puts the state at No. 49.
    “I know it’s not much,” he said. “But 49th is not last.”

    *Andy Biggs is Republican Senate President, a part of the brain trust running Arizona State Government.

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