Arizona Parents, Teachers Protest Ducey’s Education Budget

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Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s proposed schools budget was met with protests by parents and teachers who argue that it will slash education funding and deprive Arizona classrooms of crucial support.

This was the most recent opposition to the governor’s spending plan which began when several school superintendents called on parents to let their opinions be known. Mary Beth Faller, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, and Ronald J. Hansen, writing for The Arizona Republic, report that Ducey supports raising classroom spending, but has no means of securing the funding for it and is still in the process of resolving a lawsuit over the underfunding of education during the recession.

His current proposal includes a 5% reduction in non-classroom spending, meaning technology, textbooks, and non-classroom positions in areas such as libraries, food-service,  and health services. Ducey’s plan would account for the majority of the $124 million that would move into the classroom spending fund, along with new spending which would amount to about $10 million. During the 2012-2013 school year, 53.8% of the district schools’ money was spent on instruction, with the rest going to non-classroom areas.

Those opposed say that cutting areas like student support and transportation will affect the classroom as negatively as not having adequate classroom funding. Brooke Robbins Kistner, a Peoria Unified School District parent, agrees:

“It’s our custodial staff who is keeping our classroom sanitized,” she said. “They can’t make a single cut at this point that won’t affect the classroom.”

Another parent from Mesa, whose son has diabetes, is concerned about the effects on health.

“It’s our custodial staff who is keeping our classroom sanitized,” she said. “They can’t make a single cut at this point that won’t affect the classroom.”

Mobilization efforts are underway. Superintendents have called on parents in several districts, and American Encore, a political non-profit who helped the governor get elected, used automated calls to parents supporting Ducey’s budget. 60 members of the district governing boards have signed an online petition to denounce the governor’s proposal.

Still, some legislators agree with the governor, while others says the budget will likely change before lawmakers come to a final agreement. Chris Fleischman, a Phoenix engineer, says the the plan is “raiding the future of our children”:

“They’ve already cut, now they’re cutting more,” Fleischman said. “I’m not a student or a parent or a teacher. I am a taxpayer and I don’t want my home value to go down because we’re not funding education.”

According to Lisa Irish reporting for Arizona Education News Service, Arizona’s current per student K-12 funding adjusted for inflation is 17.5% lower than it was in Fiscal Year 2008 before the Great Recession began, which translates to about $663 less, based on a report released in 2014 by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities entitled ” Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession”. This puts Arizona at third place for the largest cuts in K-12 per student spending in the nation, right after Alabama with 17.8% and Oklahoma with 23.6%.

Dr. Paul Tighe, superintendent of Mingus Union High School District, says:

“Under the governor’s proposed budget, our capital obligations will exceed our capital allocation, meaning we will either have to default on our debt and lease payments or inappropriately take instructional dollars (M&O) to pay these payments. The bottom line is there is no way we can make these cuts without impacting students, programs and staff.”

The Mesa Public Schools posted a video on the school’s website explaining in detail how the cuts could affect districts. The executive budget proposal will cut funding to non-classroom areas so that increased classroom spending will appear to have been created, however, Brooke Kistner, a parent and school employee, said:

“There’s really nowhere else left to cut. Now we are at a point where we are going to be cutting nurses and custodial staff, and transportation and food service. And to say those cuts won’t affect the classroom is wrong. Kids can’t go to class hungry.”