Gov. Doug Ducey is proposing to put another $284 million into Arizona’s woefully underfunded public schools next year.
“Education, education, education,” Gretchen Conger, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff for budget and policy, told reporters on Friday. “This is a good conservative budget that focuses on the priorities of education.”
Or put another way, it’s still about a billion dollars less than what the state invested in public schools a decade ago.
If you operate on the theory that something is better than nothing, then happy days are here again.
If you operate on theory that Arizona’s students deserve the same investment in their schooling as other kids across the country, then you’re probably not quite ready to break out your tambourine.
Funding is still $950 million short
Count Arizona Schools Now, a coalition of 14 groups pushing for better funding of schools, among those who aren’t doing the happy dance.
“Under the governor’s proposal, public school operational funding would remain $950 million below 2008 levels,” the group said in a statement. “By refusing to address the revenue imbalances in our budget, we leave our schools and the students they serve without a serious, long-term path toward meeting the shared goals of the Education Progress Meter or addressing our critical teacher shortage.”
Ducey is proposing to boost soft capital funding by $100 million next year and allowing schools to use it for operational expenses such as teacher pay. That should at least cover most of the $113 million in soft capital funding that he cut in 2016.
Much of that $100 million appears to be money he’s moving out of the budget for school construction. Instead, he proposes borrowing $88 million over the next two years to build new schools.
Ducey is putting another $34 million into teacher salaries – as a pay raise this time, rather than a one-time bonus. That’ll guarantee another one percent in pay to some of the nation’s most poorly paid teachers.
How long must our kids wait for help?
“I’ve said we will never check the box on education,” Ducey said this week. “This proposal continues our commitment to fully restoring cuts made to schools during the Recession.”
Well, then, he’s got a loooong way to go.
Ducey is throwing a step ladder into the hole in which our children’s schools reside – a hole that requires a billion rungs to escape.
He assures us he can grow the state out of that hole. But how long must our kids wait?
The state is now investing $924 less per student, when adjusted for inflation, than we were a decade ago, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
When, exactly, can we expect our annual exercise in cutting taxes to pay off?
Corporate tax collections were $663 million in 2015. By 2020, when the 2011 tax cuts are fully phased in, they’re expected to fall to $263 million.
Meanwhile, corporate tax credits for private school tuition, which drained away a modest $10 million in 2007, are now sucking $74.3 million from the state treasury, according to JLBC. By 2020, that’ll jump to $107 million.
Add in individual tax credits for private and public schools and the drain is $207 million this year.
Yet Ducey refuses to consider freezing the tax cuts or tax credits or finding a new source of funding to get our schools where they need to be.
To give our kids the education they deserve … or at least a teacher who is qualified to teach.