Since 2008, Arizona’s per-pupil spending has fallen 17.5 percent. While many states experienced decreases in per-pupil funding over the past six fiscal years, Arizona witnessed the third-deepest rate of K-12 education cuts in the nation during this period. Further, Arizona was one of only four states to see its per-pupil funding decrease by more than 15 percent. For Arizona, these cuts have resulted in the termination of state-funded full-day kindergarten, larger class sizes, shortages of quality teachers, and a lack of classroom supplies.
To further exacerbate Arizona’s education funding problems, the state legislature continues to delay court-ordered payments to school districts by appealing a 2013 Arizona Supreme Court ruling and postponing action on the Maricopa County Superior Court’s subsequent 2014 interpretation of that ruling. The 2013 ruling found that the legislature had violated the Arizona State Constitution by failing to adjust school aid for inflation, which was part of the funding formula made law when voters passed Proposition 301 in 2000.
In 2014, the legislature was ordered to restore over $300 million to schools immediately during their appeals process, and then work toward paying arrears totaling approximately $1-1.5 billion. To date, none of the $300 million has been restored to schools. With students continuing to bear the burden of legislative inaction, Governor Ducey spoke to these legal issues during his January State of the State Address when he called on educators to “be reasonable—and put this behind us.”
As Governor Ducey asked educators to be reasonable, he concurrently unveiled his 2015-16 Executive Budget Proposal. The proposal featured an additional $113,457,200 in school cuts via reducing district additional assistance dollars. These cuts will result in an approximate loss of $120 to $135 in spending per student annually. This is substantial considering that Arizona already ranks third lowest in the nation for annual per-pupil expenditures—spending only $7,848 per pupil compared to the $19,552 spent by New York, the state with the highest average. Governor Ducey mandated that these cuts be made in “non-classroom” areas such as administrative costs and support services. However, with Arizona averaging only 10 percent of its educational dollars being spent on administrators, the state already ranks among the lowest in the country for administrative spending. Further, cutting dollars from support positions like nurses, counselors, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers reduces overall educational quality.
Challenging Governor Ducey’s proposal, 233 Arizona school superintendents wrote a public letter to the state legislature and the people of Arizona, urging them to resist these education cuts, regardless of the state’s current economic challenges. Also, the Arizona Education Association began an advocacy campaign, which includes Spring Break Days at the Capitol, a letter writing project, and social media strategies.
For Arizona NCTE members, this prolonged funding crisis stands in opposition to NCTE’s 2015 Education Policy Platform, specifically its Equity in Education section. This section states that, to safeguard our democracy, education should provide “quality universal early childhood education; access to quality teaching and learning environments; and equitable support for all public schools.”