COVID-19 could lead to reductions in Arizona school funding

Education leaders around Arizona fear a looming recession created by the coronavirus could once again mean reductions in school funding.

From 2008 to 2015, Arizona slashed more money for schools compared to any other state, dropping funding per student by about 36.6%.

The cuts brought criticism from some state education leaders.

It eventually prompted the #RedForEd movement in 2018, when teachers protested at the state Capitol for a week and brought public education to a halt.

Since then, lawmakers have returned some of the money cut since 2008 to the state’s education budget, but funding is still not back to pre-recession levels.

“We have not even taken a step forward from where we were in 2008,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. “Any talk of reduction just needs to go out the window.”

The state already is anticipating an estimated $1.1 billion budget shortfall, which could affect education funding.

A decrease in sales tax revenue also will hurt school funding.

State lawmakers passed a basic budget last month for the next fiscal year before adjourning because of the coronavirus, but intend to return to the Capitol when it’s safe to do so.

“I really think it continues to be our priority to protect and fund K-12 education,” said Sen. Kate Brophy-McGee, R-Phoenix.

Gov. Doug Ducey promised teachers a 20% raise by 2020, and the budget passed by the Legislature in March includes $175 million for teacher raises.

The budget also includes $67 million in funding for what’s called district additional assistance, flexible funding for schools that can be used for small building repairs, textbooks, technology and more.

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The Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee already is forecasting a $9 per student decrease in Prop. 301 revenue for fiscal year 2021, an education sales tax, a 2% decrease from the current budget year.

School leaders say many Arizona school buildings already are in disrepair because of years of inadequate funding.

And several school districts are suing the state over capital funding, saying Arizona isn’t fulfilling its constitutional duty to maintain public school buildings.

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