Most Local School Funding Measures Passed In Tuesday’s Election
Education funding in Arizona has become a hot topic in recent years, as a teacher shortage has reached crisis levels and the debate over school funding Proposition 123 dominated the news last spring.
In this week’s election, almost 50 school districts in Arizona asked voters for more local funding for schools though bonds and overrides, and, now that the results are in, it’s clear most of them passed.
That’s signaled to some that the people of Arizona continue to be willing to fund public schools, even as the state Legislature has drastically cut that money.
Chuck Essigs, director of government relations with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said voters have traditionally supported school-funding initiatives in Arizona for the last 15 years or so, and that this year they actually did a little better than they have in the past.
A few local school-funding measures look like they failed on Tuesday, including those in Queen Creek, Peoria and Gila Bend.
Bonds and overrides come out of local property taxes and pay for schools’ capital needs, which Essigs said have been severely cut by the state since the recession.
He said the recent passage of Prop 123, which funneled $300 million a year into public schools, affected voter’s willingness to support more school-funding measures like the ones on the ballot in a good way.
“In fact, it’s probably helped to bring it to light,” he said. “Because Arizona, of all the 50 states, we’re 48th. There’s only two other states that spend less on education than Arizona. And, once citizens kind of understand that, they don’t think that that’s the proper amount of spending for school districts.”
Essigs said polls show that most Arizonans think more money needs to be provided to public schools to do things like pay their teachers more and keep class sizes down.
During the recession, school districts understood why their funding was so drastically cut, Essigs said.
“But, all the cuts that have (been) made to capital funding, not one penny of those cuts have been restored,” he said.
So, ever since, school districts have been using bonds and overrides to fill the gaps in funding.
But, Essigs said, that’s not a solution for all schools.
“There are (sic) a lot of school districts that either don’t have the tax base or don’t have the local resources to make up the difference,” he said.
Plus, according to Essigs, bonds and overrides shouldn’t be the primary source of funding for school districts. “The main source of funding needs to come from the state so we can be competitive with other states.”
So, where’s the breakdown?
Essigs said Arizona state legislators need to take a closer look at what citizens are doing to support their schools in their local communities.
“The basic state funding formula that the Legislature has in place needs to be adequate,” he said. “And, I don’t believe and a lot of other people don’t believe, at least in the education area, that our formula is adequate.”