Crisis averted as Arizona lawmakers waive school spending caps
Districts could have been forced to make 17% cuts to their budgets
TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - By a vote of 23-7, the Arizona State Senate voted to waive the 1980 aggregate expenditure limit allowing public schools to spend money appropriated by the legislature last year.
Let’s unpack that.
In 1980, voters agreed to the aggregate spending limit for education, known as the AEL, a formula that limits the amount of money districts can spend.
The legislature appropriates the education dollars in the spring. The districts make out and approve their budgets in the fall.
Because the cuts made in the Great Recession were restored and Prop 301 funds are no longer exempt, the state is spending more on education than ever before. That caused the limit to be exceeded quickly.
This year, according to the formula, those budgets exceed the AEL by $1.4 billion.
The only way the districts can actually meet their budgets is for the legislature to waive the limit.
In the meantime, the districts don’t know for sure if they will have enough money to get through the school year. If the limit had not been limited, schools would have had to make 17% cuts across the board.
“It would have been a disaster scenario for us, so we’re certainly glad that disaster was averted,” said Tucson USD Superintendent Dr. Gabrielle Trujillo. “However, the legislature cannot keep playing chicken with this issue.”
TUSD put together a contingency plan just in case the limit was not lifted. That plan would have been disruptive and included laying off teachers and staff.
“You’re talking about $76 million that would have come out of (our) budget in April,” Trujillo said. “That’s not even enough to finish the school year.”
The “worst case scenario is shuttering down for the rest of the school year.”
The Arizona House of Representatives waived the limit earlier in the week by a 44-14 vote. Because it’s a continuing resolution, it doesn’t need to be signed by Gov. Katie Hobbs.
“I feel really good, it’s off my back,” said Pima County Superintendent Dustin Williams. “I can focus on making sure schools have the means to get through the rest of the semester.”
But it doesn’t answer the question of what happens next year or the year after that when budgets will likely exceed the AEL again.
School districts will again face an uncertain future.
As of now, there’s no fix moving through the legislature.
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