ARIZONA, USA — While preparations are underway for Thursday’s inauguration ceremonies, a spending cap on public schools hangs over the heads of lawmakers.
Since the spending cap was enacted in 1980, it’s always been lifted during years that it went before the legislature. But times are different. Public schools are being politicized and thrust into culture wars. Republican leadership at the state Capitol is not talking about what they plan to do about the spending cap.
As 12News has previously reported, then-Governor Doug Ducey promised to call a special session to address the Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL) if he was assured there would be enough votes. Bipartisan lawmakers said as late as December; there were enough votes to hold a special session. Ducey never called a special session.
“As we move into the next legislative session. There’s a lot of new people, new faces coming in and it’s going to require a lot of education,” said Peoria Unified Superintendent Jason Reynolds, whose district oversees 42 schools and 37,000 students.
The legislature has until March 1 to lift the cap.
Meanwhile, Reynolds and other superintendents said their districts are already on edge.
“Right now we are pausing any future investments,” Reynolds said.
Peoria Unified, the fourth largest district in the state, stands to lose about $52 million on April 1 if the legislature does not override the AEL.
“It’s having a tremendous impact on how we budget, how we plan,” Reynolds said.
Incoming House Speaker Ben Toma represents the community where Peoria Unified sits. Toma declined to comment to 12News Tuesday.
Toma has positioned himself as a champion of “school choice” on social media. He posted a photo of himself on Twitter the day he successfully led a measure to approve universal school vouchers, formally known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, in June 2022.
Toma told 12News during the same month he expected the legislature would address the AEL after they received a dollar amount of how much schools exceed the limit. That number was provided to the legislature more than a month ago.
>> VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL: El límite de gastos en las escuelas públicas pende sobre las cabezas de los legisladores de Arizona
Up to Speed
Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.