Arizona school districts face potential budget cuts

Arizona school districts are at risk for budget cuts of over $1.1 billion for the 2022-2023 school year. The Arizona State Senate and House of Representatives would need to have a two-thirds majority vote to override the cap on spending for school districts by March 1. 

Thaggregate expenditure limitation (AEL) was first put in the Arizona Constitution in 1980. This initiative put a shared monetary limit on all public school districts depending on enrollment and spending used. 

Heidi Ash was a middle school teacher for six years in Flagstaff, Cottonwood and Cornville. Ash said budget cuts would impact resources for students, lower teacher salaries and concern parents who would be dissatisfied with their child’s education. 

“You can’t take a billion dollars away from something that is already struggling,” Ash said. 

The AEL fluctuates based on prior school year student attendance and inflation. Due to the pandemic, school attendance decreased last school year, therefore reducing the expenditure limit this year. 

On Feb. 21, HCR2039 was proposed by Senate President Karen Fann as an alternative option to approving an AEL adjustment. This bill authorized exceeding AEL in school districts by $1,154,028,997. This change was only for the 2021-2022 fiscal school year.

On Sept. 6, over 190 school superintendents signed a letter urging Gov. Doug Ducey to call an immediate special session of legislature to lift the AEL.    

Coconino County Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Mango-Paget said she thinks the AEL needs to change and a 16% budget cut may include combined classes, shortened school week, teachers and staff being furloughed or cut or reduced programs.

“What it could do is cause some schools to actually shut down in that spring break time frame, because 16% budget cuts to operations could really hurt,” Mango-Paget said. “You won’t have the money to pay your salaries, and the environment would be terrible.”

Proposition 301 is an education sales tax that creates a 0.6% tax for education. In June 2022, the sales tax expired. K-12 schools received the majority of the funding from Proposition 301. Two years after being passed, education sales tax were voted to be excluded from the K-12 spending limit.

Senate Bill 1390 was signed in 2018 by Ducey and lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties after Proposition 301 expired. This new bill extended Proposition 301 for another 20 years. However, Senate Bill 1390 did not continue the exemption from AEL in the education sales tax.

“Unfortunately, I’ve seen the school be put way back in the priority list of Arizona from past actions,” Ash said. “Many people are more interested in saving money in their own pocketbooks rather than what is best for the schools.” 

Arizona Center for Economic Progress argued Arizona’s AEL is based on education spending in the 1980s which is vastly different from current spending. They said this was put in place before teacher shortages, personal computers, higher risk of school safety and special education students receiving more spending. 

Polls taken across Arizona showed 74% of Arizonans think more funding is needed for public schools. Since 2009, however, $4.56 billion have been cut by the state to public schools.

“We have to create a formula for how the AEL is set that fluctuates with inflation and the times or it needs to be addressed every so many years,” Mango-Paget said. “It can’t just be this is it from the 1980s.”

In the United States, Arizona iranked 46th for education by U.S. News and World Report. In 2022, 1,590 schools in 261 districts had a total of 970,751 students. There was approximately one teacher for every 19 students, with a total of 49,841 teachers total. The national average of student-teacher ratio is one teacher to every 16 students. In the 2018-2019 school year, the graduation rate was 78%. 

“We want to encourage everybody to contact their legislatures and demand that they apply pressure to not just put a Band-Aid on the problem, but to come up with a long-term solution,” Mango-Paget said. 

On April 1, the spending limit will go into effect if not voted otherwise, leaving little time left in the 2023 school year. 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.