The rhetoric concerning education funding in Arizona plays like a broken record.
Going into this year’s legislative session, Gov. Doug Ducey said education funding was a top priority for this year’s state budget. He pledged a “commitment our educators can take to the bank.”
Now with the Arizona budget process complete, educators are hardly impressed. Monday, three former Arizona teachers of the year took the governor and state lawmakers to task, claiming the state once again has short-changed Arizona K-12 education. They emphasized that while state funding on a per-student basis was $4,487 in the 2007-2008 school year, it’s now down to $4,324 not including the effects of inflation.
That’s just part of their beef. In addition to per-pupil allocations, state lawmakers have been sued for allegedly not living up to their responsibility to provide sufficient funding for new school construction, with estimates that the state has shorted schools more than $2 billion since 2009.
At the other end of the argument, the governor and lawmakers emphasize that education is the No. 1 priority of the state budget and the bottom-line numbers prove it.
The 2016-17 Joint Legislative Budget Committee Final Report states 42 percent of the state budget is allocated to K-12 education, and 51.5 percent includes all education spending combined (K-12, State School Facilities Board and state aid to community colleges and universities). Slightly less than 50 percent of the state budget must provide for such things as state highway construction and maintenance, Arizona Department of Public Safety, the prison system and myriad other state services.
Adding to the confusion are various national studies that show Arizona allocates as little as 29 percent of its overall budget to education, and that the Grand Canyon State is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to direct classroom funding.
At one end of the argument is the claim that Arizona’s fiscal commitment to education is classic smoke and mirrors. At the other is a belief that educators are impossible to please when it comes to how much money really is enough to get the job done properly.
Given the history of the process in Arizona, there is little hope this conflict will ever be resolved.