House education committee moves resolution forward to lift AZ's school spending cap

By Bridget Dowd
Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2023 - 10:07am

Arizona Department of Education building
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Arizona Department of Education building in downtown Phoenix.

On Tuesday, the Arizona House Education Committee advanced a resolution that would lift the state’s school spending limit for this academic year.

Arizona’s Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL) puts a cap on how much school districts can spend each year. The legislature made historic investments in public schools last summer, but schools can’t spend that money with the cap in place.

Republican Rep. David Cook introduced HCR2001 to lift the cap before March 1. During Tuesday’s committee meeting, among other points, he talked about how in small, rural Arizona communities, schools are often the largest employers.

“And it’s not just teachers that we hear about, or secretaries or administrators,” Cook said. “It’s coaches, it’s band leaders, it’s everything from bus drivers to cafeteria workers, to janitors, that all depend on their job.”

Blue Ridge Unified School District Superintendent Michael Wright also urged lawmakers to pass that resolution. He said kids would suffer without the promised funding.

“And the kids that will suffer most will be your vulnerable populations,” Wright said. “We have little kids that are picked up on special-ed buses daily, that receive medical attention, that receive food, supervision and support. They live on the edge. This is about kids. So I’m trying to step out of the politics.”

Multiple speakers echoed the points that budget cuts could mean massive layoffs or school closures. 

One member of the public, and a few committee members said they wanted to see more accountability and higher performance in schools. Committee chair, Republican Beverly Pingerelli, voted present on the resolution.

“Like many of my colleagues I’m frustrated with several aspects of education in Arizona,” she said. “My top concern is academic achievement, rigor in the class room and preparedness for higher education and career.”

Pingerelli said her vote present was a way to move the resolution forward, signaling her general displeasure, while “acknowledging the reality that to not allow the AEL to be overridden means certain chaos.”

Republican Rep. Liz Harris voted yes on the resolution, but also expressed concerns over poor test scores.

“I want to see Arizona be number one in education, but we’ve got a long way to get there,” Harris said. “I hope that there’s great accountability and great transparency in our spending and we spend the money well.”

The resolution passed with eight yes votes, one no, and one present.