Big education funding cuts in Arizona loom; state school superintendent paints bleak picture for education

As Arizona faces potential cuts of more than $1 billion from public schools by March 1, the state's Superintendent for Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, delivered her State of Schools Address to an Arizona State Senate committee on the afternoon of Feb. 8.

Voter-passed school spending limit behind impending cuts

During her address, Hoffman did not mince words

"Because of legislative inaction, our schools are facing a school closure ticking time bomb," said Hoffman.

Arizona public schools are facing the big cuts, thanks to a school spending limit passed by voters in the 1980s.

Hoffman said nearly every school could face a tough decision.

"It would include layoffs, furloughs, school closures," said Hoffman.

The messy situation partially has to do with enrollment, which went down during COVID, when the budget numbers were calculated, and back up again now. The situation has been resolved in the past, with the state legislature getting a 2/3rds vote to lift the cap when schools were up against it.

Read More: Funding cuts loom for Arizona public schools due to constitutional spending cap; here's what you should know

Lawmakers accusing each other of playing politics

Sen. Paul Boyer questioned how schools got to this point with the investments the legislature have made recently.

"It would helpful for all to at least acknowledge reality, the reason we are where we are is because we’ve put so many dollars into education," said Sen. Boyer. The GOP lawmaker represents the state's 20th Legislative District, which covers a portion of North Phoenix.

"We gave the schools the money. Period. Full stop. We now are the only ones who can grant them the ability to spend the money," said State Sen. Christine Marsh. The Democratic lawmaker represents the state's 28th Legislative District, which covers portions of Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Both Democrats and Republicans accused each other of playing politics with the issue, but supporters of lifting the cap said it wouldn't be right to tell schools they had the money last year, and then take it away.

With three weeks to act, State Sen. TJ Shoppe says he is confident they will find a way.

"It would be crazy to think that a legislature that has voted, myself included, to give raises and add additional billions of dollars to education, would not vote to increase a cap that has already been approved by the same legislature. What we’re hearing today is pure politics," said State Sen. Shope. The GOP lawmaker represents the state's 8th Legislative District, which covers a portion of Pinal County, including the towns of Florence and Coolidge.

After Hoffman's speech, the committee turned its attention to school voucher expansion bills.

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