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Arizona Legislature poised to fall short of school leaders' expectations on state budget

Arizona has a budget surplus of more than $5 billion but lawmakers still have not agreed on how to spend it. Most agree the state must bolster school funding.

PHOENIX — Given a $5 billion surplus, Republican leadership at the Arizona state legislature has the opportunity to make a historic investment in public schools. 

However, it appears the latest proposal outlined by Republicans this week would only marginally increase the ability of school districts to raise teacher salaries.

“What’s being proposed is a good move toward increasing funding,” Chuck Essigs, Director of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials said. “We’re really behind in Arizona in how we compensate our teachers so this is not going to move us to the point where we’re competitive with the rest of the country.”

RELATED: Will Arizona lawmakers pass new money for schools?

The proposed budget would add $291 per pupil for K-12 school district funding and $355 million overall to annual base revenues for district public schools. Charter schools would receive $346 more per pupil. 

The budget also contains increases in spending for special education and capital expenses, which Essigs applauds.

According to an analysis by education consultant Anabela Aportela, the overall proposal amounts to a 6.5% increase in the base funding formula for district K-12 schools. That is not nearly enough to satisfy many Democrats.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see that in this time when we have every opportunity to finally invest in public schools this Republican budget just fails to do that,” said Democrat Representative Kelli Butler of Scottsdale, who was a “no” vote on the K-12 funding bill during Tuesday morning’s committee hearing. “In fact, the amount of funding they have allocated won’t even let our district schools be able to adjust for inflation.”

Education advocates with the Arizona Education Association gathered at the capitol Tuesday, saying the plan falls well short of the $1.2 billion of new revenue requested for the next fiscal year.

“Over and over the voters have asked for teachers to get paid and for schools to be funded properly so they are safe and healthy environments for kids,” said Susan Izzarelli, President of the Paradise Valley Education Association. “Millions of voters should be furious that the legislature is playing games like this.”

Republican House Majority Leader Ben Toma is shepherding budget negotiations. When reached for comment Tuesday through a House liaison, Toma did not respond.

The proposal would preserve the “teacher experience index”, which provides financial rewards for veteran teachers. Earlier this session there was talk that provision would be eliminated.

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