Arizona Governor Doug Ducey called a special session of the state legislature last week to take a closer look at the education funding package which would include a $249 million immediate cash infusion.
The goal of the session was to approve additional funding for K-12 public schools across the state. For months, educators have been pushing the state for money, arguing that the level of funding for schools in the state was too low.
Currently under negotiations, the package would include $249 million in funding per year, which schools would receive immediately from a budget surplus. In addition, the package would change the formula used to determine school funding as well as a measure to use more funding from the State Land Trust Fund.
Voter approval would be required, writes Christopher Conover for Arizona Public Media. Money would be received by schools over the course of 10 years totaling $3.5 billion. The amount schools receive each year would be adjusted for inflation.
A lawsuit brought on by school districts against the Legislature five years ago would be resolved through the immediate payments. The districts had argued that inflation payments had been illegally withheld for a number of years during the financial downturn in the state. If the package receives approval, per-pupil funding in Arizona would increase by $173, reaching $3,600. A previous court ruling requires the state to increase that funding by about $240 per student.
However, a lawyer for the districts discussed concerns that the package going to the Legislature would not address the settlement deal as he understood it.
When the budget deal was passed in March, $113 million was cut from K-12 funding by Republican lawmakers. That budget was then signed by Governor Ducey.
Afterward, the US Census Bureau announced that Arizona had the lowest school funding in the entire country. Later, it added that teachers in the state were some of the lowest paid in the nation.
Committees for the House and Senate held hearings in an effort to get public opinion concerning the bill, the only time the public would have the opportunity to comment. A rules committee hearing was set to follow, as well as a caucus meeting and a floor session to debate the package.
In a radio ad launched earlier in the week in Phoenix, education policy group Stand for Children pushed for the Legislature to pass the school funding plan and asked listeners to call state lawmakers.
Meanwhile, State Treasurer Jeff DeWit said the plan could possibly be illegal, as giving schools the additional funding now from the land trust would decrease the amount available in later years. He added that the 10 million acres of land given to the state in 2012 by Congress was meant to be used as a permanent trust.
“The whole point of the congressional oversight of this is to ensure that we never touch a penny of the principal,” he said. What that also means, said DeWit, is that boosting the distribution needs not just voter approval next May but also the consent of Congress.