In addition to the many challenges students, parents and educators have faced during the COVID19 pandemic, a possible funding crisis is looming for Arizona public schools this spring.
The potentially drastic cut of $1.2 billion will have to be made from April through June of 2022, due to a constitutional amendment called the Arizona K-12 Aggregate Expenditure Limit. It does not limit the money that can be raised; it limits what can be spent. Schools can collect tax funds. They just won’t be able to spend all the money.
If not derailed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature by March 1, 2022, districts will have to find ways to reduce, by 17%, what they had budgeted to spend in Fiscal Year 2022, which ends in June. In other words, three-fourths of the fiscal year will have passed when the cuts come about. Charter schools are not subject to the limit on spending.
It would mean almost $1400 less per student, according to an analysis by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Arizona’s current spending of $8,239 per student already places it at 48th out of the 50 states before these cuts would go into place.
Patagonia School Superintendent Kenny Hayes says that the District, from preschool through 12th grade, would be expected to find cuts of $450,000, if the limit is not waived.
Elgin School would need to reduce its spring spending by $330,000, according to Superintendent Mary Faley. And since 80% of all school funding goes to teacher and staff salaries and benefits, school officials throughout the state are fearing that the cuts would mean layoffs or an inability to come through with expected salary raises. Arizona teacher salaries rank 46th out of the states, amid a crisis of teacher shortages.
According to Senator Rosanna Gabaldon, Democrat from District 2, ”Schools across Arizona and especially in rural parts of Arizona have been devastated by COVID and have been working overtime to keep our schools safe and open. This cut would wipe out many recent funding increases, like teacher salary increases, restoration of district additional assistance, increased special education funding and others. We have to address it at the beginning of the legislative session so parents, students and school districts aren’t panicking about what the cuts would do to students and school programs.”
The amendment was voted in by citizens in 1980 to cap education spending in the state. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the country saw a wave of voter-approved measures to limit government funding, spurred by nationwide inflation and recession.
The limit has been waived several times in the past 40 years. Recently a combination of lower student enrollment in Arizona schools during COVID19 and the impact of several funding changes have led to this huge discrepancy between the money raised and the spending allowed.
Republican lawmakers are quoted in recent articles on the website “tucson.com” as being in support of a waiver. Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she is personally interested in helping schools avoid a crisis. “The intention is never to do these kind of draconian cuts,’’ she said.
However, education funding has recently been a controversial topic in the Arizona Legislature. The outcome for the Aggregate Limit will be revealed in March of 2022.