Fri, Jan. 24

Time to end smoke-and-mirrors budgeting for Arizona education

Here we go again. The Arizona Legislature and governor’s office are making enhanced spending for K-12 education one of their main priorities for the new legislative session.

And as is typically the case, they either do not know how they are going to do that, or they’re not showing their hand.

School spending is a constant tug-of-war between the education community and state lawmakers. Education advocates point to national statistics that annually show Arizona ranking at or near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the amount of state tax dollars that actually make it to the classroom.

Arizona lawmakers argue the point with claims that the lion’s share of state monies are indeed dedicated to education. The 2016-17 Joint Legislative Budget Committee Final Report states 42 percent of the 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).

But what makes those numbers suspect is the various state studies that show Arizona allocating as little as 29 percent of its budget to education. The Arizona Legislature’s claim of spending 42 percent of its budget for K-12 education sounds good on the surface, but you can’t help but wonder if there is not some smoke-and-mirrors manipulation of those numbers.

The very fact that lawmakers come back every session with designs on putting more money into our schools makes the smoke-and-mirrors scenario all the more likely.

So, this time around let’s hope state lawmakers quit dealing from the bottom of the deck on K-12 education funding.

Let’s lay all the cards on the table. Let’s clearly spell out what is needed to properly fund Arizona’s schools. Let’s clearly identify how it’s going to be done.

And, for once and for all, let’s remove the national stigma placed on Arizona year after year that we are the nation’s worst when it comes to placing tax dollars in the classroom.

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