Arizona Legislative Committees Give K-12, Higher Education Budget Bill Initial Approval

By Rocio Hernandez
Published: Tuesday, May 25, 2021 - 6:38pm

The Arizona House and Senate Appropriation committees gave bills on appropriations for K-12 and higher education initial approval during their Tuesday meetings.  

On the higher education side, the three public universities — Arizona State Universities, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona — are expected to receive more than $746 million in one-time and ongoing funding from the state's general fund. 

This includes $500,000 to establish an Agricultural Workforce Development Program. The University of Arizona’s Health Sciences Center is also getting about $77 million. 

But Democratic Rep. Dr. Randy Friese had concerns with language in a higher education budget bill that would prohibit universities from requiring students, staff, faculty get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“I just see this as unfounded and sort of ridiculous. We’re handcuffing them and saying you can’t do this. They don’t do it yet. This is purely political, has nothing to do with good policy.” 

None of the universities currently require the COVID-19 vaccine. Committee chair Regina Cobb likened the COVID-19 vaccine to the flu shot which universities also don’t require. She also argued that the COVID-19 vaccines have not received full FDA approval. 

In addition, the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the universities, is receiving an additional $7.5 million to create a new scholarship program for low-income students. 

Arizona community colleges are also expected to receive about $100 million.

On the K-12 side, the Arizona Department of Education is expected to receive about $5.9 billion from the state's general fund. 

One of the biggest investments the bills make is $50 million dollars for special education students with “group B” disabilities such as visual and hearing impairments and autism. They also appropriate $5 million for an Extraordinary Special Needs Fund Deposit and another $5 million for fourth-year Career and Technical Education. 

Democratic Rep. Judy Schwiebert called this a good first step, but doesn’t think it goes far enough. 

"With the surplus that we have this year we need to be making even more investments in our public education system," she said. 

Rep. Jake Hoffman took issue issue with language that allows school leaders to have final say on mask wearing policies. 

"That's highly concerning to me so I hope that that gets fixed," he said. 

Hoffman was also disappointed to see that the bills did not include a school voucher expansion for low-income students.

Other lawmakers were concerned  with a move to shift a unit that investigates school personnel from under the Arizona Department of Education to the Arizona State Board of Education. 

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