School cuts looming unless legislature allow districts to exceed spending limits

KOLD News 12-12:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 8:37 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The clock is ticking for the state legislature to free up the money it approved for Arizona’s school districts.

Arizona School’s Superintendent Tom Horne painted a bleak picture of what might happen if the state legislature fails to act.

“If the expenditure limit is not waived this year and two thirds of the teachers are laid off, the parents of all ideologies are going to go crazy,” Horne told a House subcommittee on appropriations.

But Horne says that’s exactly what will happen if state lawmakers don’t waive the spending limits and allow the districts to spend the classroom money already appropriated by the state.

“If the AEL is not waived this year, then come March, the schools are going to have to cut 70% of their budgets,” he said.

The AEL is short for the “accelerated expenditure limit”, a 1980 law which prohibits school districts from spending beyond a certain point determined by formula, even if the money has been appropriated by lawmakers.

In the spring, the state passes a budget allocating X amount of dollars for education. In November the school districts prepare their budgets. But now, those budgets exceed the formula by $1.4 billion. That means, unless the AEL is waived by March 1, Horne says the cuts would be up to 70%.

And since the biggest budget item of any district is personnel, it would likely mean massive layoffs of teachers, as many as two thirds of the teachers, he says, rendering classrooms virtually useless.

“And of the one third of teachers left, unable to handle the number of students to be educated,” Horne told the panel. “It would be an incredible disaster.”

Former Gov. Doug Ducey said he would call a special session to deal with it, but never did.

“That’s unsustainable and its flat stupid from a public finance standpoint,” Kevin McCarthy, of the Arizona Tax Research Organization told the lawmakers. “The option in K-12 is for you to deal with the problem you started.” The joint legislative budget committee laid out three options for the lawmakers. The easiest to waive the limit. The least favorable is to force the districts to cut 17.5% to stay under the limit forcing the cuts. “If you have only one third or less of teachers there, how are you going to deal with all those students,” Horne said. “It’s impossible, absolutely impossible situation.”

There are several bills proposed at the state capitol to deal with the situation, but none has moved very far in the opening month of the legislature.

Some districts are already preparing contingency plans, just in case the impossible situation happens.