School funding still not decided at Arizona legislature

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 7:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - With the 2022 legislative session winding down, all eyes are on school funding and whether a $1 billion surplus will be used for tax cuts or school spending.

“We need to invest in our schools,” said David Lujan, President and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance. “The rich in Arizona don’t need another tax cut.”

Although Arizona lawmakers have increased school funding since the cuts during the 2008 recession, in class per pupil spending has only increased marginally.

“When I was teaching in 1992, Arizona was spending $5,442 for each student and currently, it’s $5,710,” said District 3 Democrat Sally Ann Gonzales. “That’s only a 5% increase.”

That lack of funding is why Arizona continues to rank near the bottom in per pupil spending.

“We have either the 48th, 49th or 50th for the past decade in per pupil funding,” Lujan said. “That translates into one of the worst teacher shortage crisis in the country, it translates into some of the largest class sizes, it translates into schools that are underfunded.”

It also has an impact on student performance and the way companies and corporations view the state as a place to relocate.

“One of the biggest concerns that these companies raise is not our tax rates, we have low taxes already,” Lujan said. “It’s the quality of our public education system, the quality of our workforce is the biggest concern.”

Without a commitment to the process, Lujan believes it’s difficult for students to get behind education as well.

“When students see that we’re underfunding education, then most get the message education must not be that important,” he said.

The Republican controlled legislature is trying to pass a bill, HB 1269, to change the funding mechanisms for schools but it’s meeting some resistance.

“What really worries me is we’re making such huge changes to our educational system especially in regards to funding at the last minute of the session,” said District 29 Democrat Cesar Chavez.

Introduced in the Appropriations Committee last week as a striker bill, it’s met with a cool reception, in part because it picks winners and losers which Lujan argues has been going on for a long time.

“What the data has shown is that charter schools and high income school districts get a much higher share of those dollars that low income districts,” he said. “The districts which need the dollars the most aren’t getting them.”

The bill would need Senate approval but Gonzales said there must be an issue because a floor vote has yet to be scheduled.

“But they usually don’t let us (Democrats) know what they’re doing,” she said. “Our bills don’t even get a hearing.”

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