Bipartisan measures aim to increase school spending cap, avoid $1.2B in education cuts

Bipartisan proposals to repel the threat of nearly $ 1.2 billion in cuts to funding for Arizona schools in the middle of the year were filed Monday in the state Senate and House of Representatives, just two weeks before March 1 expires before schools are forced to lay off staff. and the face closes.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Russell Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann, both Republicans, joined Democratic leaders Reginald Balding and Senator Rebecca Rios to propose raising the constitutional limit on school spending. Democrats earlier this year introduced a law to do the same, but it was never passed.

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The cost limit is known in the language of school funding as the total cost limit, or AEL. It was added to the Arizona Constitution in 1980, and this is a limit on how many public school counties can spend each year. The limit is adjusted each year to take into account inflation and the number of students. But the drop in enrollment in public schools due to the pandemic combined with the fact that the legislature failed to exempt education funding from extending the sales tax, puts schools beyond that limit.

In fact, that means schools can’t spend the more than $ 1.15 billion of money that Republican lawmakers and Gov. Doug Dussey gave them last year.

The constitution does provide a way to circumvent the restriction: two-thirds of the majority of each legislature can increase the spending limit. And if the Republican leadership supports the new proposals, they are likely to be successful. So far, conservative lawmakers have been reluctant to join the previous democratic effort, in part because of a lawsuit challenging school spending that voters approved in proposal 208 2020, which provides for a 3.50% tax on income above $ 250,000 to fund teachers’ salaries. .

Several Republican lawmakers were plaintiffs in a lawsuit about whether tax collection was constitutional. The Arizona Supreme Court considered the main issue, but ruled that the costs would be subject to AEL – and noted that they would almost certainly exceed the limit. The trial judge is now considering whether this is the case and if it means Prop. 208 is unconstitutional.

English teacher at Greenway High School Amber Gould is one of the educators who will immediately suffer from funding cuts unless the legislature raises spending limits. Her district, Glendale-Union High School District, will lose more than $ 22 million.

“There are some districts that will have to cut key positions, some districts will literally close schools,” she said.

Not only will school closures and staff cuts fail teachers, Gould said, but families who had just recovered when pandemic-era restrictions were lifted will need to look again for alternative childcare.

Retired school counselor Anna Cicero said that the stress of the approaching deadline is already acting on principals and teachers. Occupational safety concerns distract teachers from their students, and principals have shifted their focus from support staff to figuring out how to reduce funding shortages.

“Remove the restriction and allow teachers to teach and allow principals to do their job instead of worrying about how to shuffle their staff,” she said.

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