Category: K-12 Education

The Countdown Begins - AZ Students Need a Permanent Fix to the School Spending Limit

Arizona voters approved into law a limit on what public schools can spend in a year based on the needs in 1980. If schools exceed the limit in a school year, as they did last year and again this year, the law allows the legislature to provide an “expenditure override” to allow districts to spend funds that have already been budgeted, with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. An expenditure override does not increase taxes and is independent of the legislature’s budget decisions during the year. 

The spending limit is antiquated and based on what school needs were like in 1980. That is evident by the fact that Arizona is hitting the spending limit this year despite Arizona school funding being the lowest in the nation. Without the expenditure override, schools would be forced to make extreme cuts before the end of this school year. It would be an economic disaster for the Arizona public school system especially since the state funding per pupil ratio is among the lowest in the nation. Arizona’s public schools are already experiencing a teacher shortage and struggling with additional costs caused by the pandemic. 

Today’s school state funding should not be restricted to budgets created over 40 years ago.  

The Arizona legislature must: 

  1. Send a referral to the ballot to permanently address the issue.  
  1. Continue to pass a resolution to override the limit for each school year until voters address the issue.

The Problem with the Limit. Arizona’s Aggregate Expenditure Limit is outdated. It is based on education spending in the 1980s – before personal computers, the emphasis on STEM education, concerns about school safety, teacher shortages, and increased spending for special education students. Today, it threatens Arizona’s ability to make the investments needed to increase its per-student funding ranking above 48th in the nation.  

Overriding the Limit. Arizona’s constitution allows school districts only one option to avoid budget cuts – a one-time override that must be passed, not by voters, but by the state legislature, and not by a simple majority but by two-thirds of both chambers. Should this override approval not occur by the March 1 deadline, districts will be directed to reduce their budgets to keep within the limit and submit a revised budget in April.  

To make a permanent change to the limit, either the legislature would need to refer the issue to the voters or signatures would need to be collected to place the issue on the ballot at a future general election.  

 Options for a Permanent Fix to the Spending Limit. The only option to avoid districts having to cut their budgets in the middle of the school year is for the legislature to pass a one-time override. But Arizona needs a permanent fix to the current expenditure limit. Here are some options for a permanent fix: 

  • Reset the Base Year. If Arizona retains the Aggregate Spending Limit calculation, it needs to be based on what today’s public schools pay for – computers and technology, student safety, increased pay for teachers, and all other district staff. This option requires voter approval to amend the state constitution. 
  • Use the Weighted Student Count. Instead of using a student count that reflects just enrollment, a weighted student count would take into consideration the higher costs of providing education to students with special needs, small school districts, grade level, and English language learners. 
  • Expand the List of What is Exempt from the Limit. The school spending limit should not include spending linked to school or student characteristics, such as increases in the number of special education students, students with disabilities, or English language learners, or the mix between elementary and secondary students. 

Eliminate the Expenditure Limit Altogether. The K-12 aggregate spending limit was adopted at a time when major changes were being made to how the state’s public schools were to be funded. Concerns existed that these changes might result in significant tax increases. Today, we know that school spending is controlled in several ways. It increases to the per-student base-level spending formula are restricted to inflation or 2 percent, whichever is less, and are set each year by the legislature. Beginning in fiscal year 2025, these inflationary increases to base-level funding can be suspended or even reversed if inflation and employment growth do not exceed limits passed by voters or if K-12 education’s portion of the state general fund budget reaches 49 percent or more. Eliminating the expenditure limit does not mean eliminating all spending limits. 

Download the AEL one-pager PDF here

National academic progress report is out - See how AZ students performed

As expected, the COVID pandemic had a significant impact on our nation’s children.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) recent report shows students' NAEP scores have decreased in math and reading competency.  Although Arizona students fared better overall than most states, their scores are still among the lowest in the country on student achievement. The NAEP assessment, administered in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, allows state-to-state comparison of academic performance. It was administered in 2019, and it shows how students performed before and after the COVID pandemic

Although scores in math have consistently increased since 1990, average mathematics scores for the nation in 2022 were lower by 5 points at the fourth-grade level and 8 points at the eighth-grade level.  Fortunately, they still remain higher than the baseline established in 1990, indicating that not all progress in math has been lost. The same cannot be said for reading competency.  Average reading scores nationally decreased by 3 points at both fourth- and eighth-grade levels -  wiping out ALL of the progress made since 1992. The good news is that Arizona’s children saw smaller declines than the national average in reading in both grades with under one-point decrease in reading scores.

Our state's good news should be tempered by the fact that only 31 percent of all children in Arizona scored at or above the proficient level in reading.  And students of color fared far worse on the reading assessment with Black students scoring 32 points and Hispanic students scoring 26 points lower than White students. Reading comprehension is connected to later success in school and higher school graduation rates.  Also, children who live in poverty are more likely to struggle with reading comprehension. Arizona has a long way to go to provide all children with the resources they need.  We must start now by addressing the looming spending limit (AEL) crisis facing Arizona’s public schools.

For more information on Arizona’s results please see the state profile here

Please Turn In Your Signature Petitions NOW!

In three weeks, Save Our Schools Arizona turns in signatures to stop yet another universal voucher scheme — they need them back ASAP! 

This year’s ill advised, universal voucher expansion already has 6500+ applicants, the vast majority of which have NEVER stepped foot in a public school. Vouchers have never been about “choice”: it’s about subsidizing private education while defunding public schools. This number will expand dramatically over the next few months if we do not turn in 118,823 valid signatures by Sept. 23 — stripping hundreds of millions from our public school classrooms, teachers, and children.  

 We have got to get this job done and stop this horrific bill in its tracks. That means we need every signature and every petition back ASAP. We’ve got this, but only if everyone does their part.  

 Save Our Schools has events all over the state where you can notarize & return signatures: teamsosarizona.com/signature-slam/ 

 Find a notary here: teamsosarizona.com/notary/ 

 Public schools are on the line. Find detailed directions HERE for turn-in.  

 

Save Our Schools Arizona Petition Drive

Save Our Schools Arizona is running a statewide referendum to stop the universal voucher expansion passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor earlier this summer. This expansion will strip Arizona public schools of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. This means our taxpayer funds will be diverted to unaccountable private academies with no transparency or oversight of public dollars. Mad? Furious? Join the efforts to Stop Voucher Expansion: teamsosarizona.com.

The Arizona legislature passed this bill in June, defying the will of Arizona voters who already rejected universal vouchers in 2018 by a 2-1 margin. But SOSAZ is fighting back. By collecting 218,823 valid signatures by Sept. 23, 2022, they are working to stop the law from going into effect and put it on the 2024 ballot, where AZ voters will reject it once and for all.

The stakes could not be higher - this is a referendum to decide the future of education in Arizona and across the nation.

How can you help?

Join the August Signature Slam this weekend: teamsosarizona.com/signature-slam/

If you already have petitions, thank you! Please turn them in as soon as possible, and consider grabbing another to fill out in August. There are easy opportunities to plug in and volunteer: bit.ly/SVEvolunteer.

If you need petitions to circulate to friends and family, PLEASE act quickly. You can get petitions at any Petition Hub at or any August Signature Slam event this weekend: teamsosarizona.com/signature-slam/

Make no mistake - our public schools are under attack and Arizona is the tip of the spear.

We must put a stop to this before they eradicate the cornerstone of our democracy - public education. Donate at sosarizona.org/donate.

THIS WEEKEND: Help Save Our Schools Stop Voucher Expansion

As the 2022 Legislative session ended, lawmakers passed a massive expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA Vouchers). ESA Vouchers take funds that would have gone to public schools and gives parents who opt out of those schools a debit card that can be used to pay for educational expenses including private or religious school tuition, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees.  

 A previous attempt at expansion of these vouchers was overwhelmingly rejected by AZ voters in 2018, with the clear mandate for the Legislature to provide adequate funding for Arizona’s public schools instead. This session, majority lawmakers again defied the will of voters and brought the program back, with no cap and no accountability. This means taxpayer funds will be siphoned away from public schools and into the hands of private entities setting up schools with no requirements for teacher credentials or safety standards, no oversight of academic standards, and little to no visibility of how public funds will be spent. Our friends at Save Our Schools Arizona have launched a massive petition drive to reject HB2853, Universal Voucher Expansion. 

Universal ESA vouchers are likely to siphon hundreds of millions from our public schools if we allow this law to go into effect. All 85,000 current private school and homeschool students will be eligible for a $7,000 voucher on Sept. 24 if SOSAZ does not turn in 118,823 valid signatures – meaning a potential $600M cut to our general fund overnight. And that is just the first cut.  

 We are asking each of you to get involved, and to do your part to protect public education in this state:  

  • Find a spot to sign at this weekend’s 

Statewide July Signature Slam (Sat 7/23 & Sun 7/24) 

  • Grab a petition or two for friends & family to fill out at any of these events OR a 

regional petition hub  

  •  Sign up to volunteer as a circulator, notary, driver, verifier & more: 

bit.ly/SVEvolunteer 

 Find more information, training, FAQs, and more here: teamsosarizona.com/info 

 We cannot underscore this enough - universal vouchers mean the dismantling of public schools as we know them in our state. Thank you for joining the fight to protect AZ's children.  

 

Win for Prop 208 and the Voters of Arizona

PRESS STATEMENT 

June 23, 2022 

$800 Million in New Ongoing Funding for Public Education is a Win for Prop 208 and the Voters of Arizona 

(PHOENIX, AZ) When nearly 1.7 million Arizona voters passed Proposition 208 in November 2020 they sent a clear message that they wanted to substantially increase funding for K-12 public education and they supported raising taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans to do so. While the Supreme Court’s heavy-handed decision striking down Prop 208 went against the will of the voters, the Supreme Court could not erase the strong message that voters had sent: that they were tired of Arizona having the most underfunded schools in the nation and they would no longer tolerate the state legislature’s failure to properly fund public education.

So make no mistake about it, the more than $800 million in new ongoing funding for public education included in the new state budget would not have happened without all of the Arizona voters who supported Prop 208, and all of the teachers and other community volunteers who worked so hard to make it happen. Initial budget proposals did not include anywhere near the amount of new public education investments that made it into the final budget. But lawmakers could no longer ignore the will of the voters. That is why the new budget includes new annual investments in our public schools that are nearly equivalent to the amount of annual funding that would have been raised by Prop 208.

The additional funding includes:

  • More than $500 million increase to the funding formula
  • $100 million for the new opportunity weight
  • $100 million increase for special education
  • $50 million for more school safety officers and counselors

“We are pleased to see that Arizona’s public schools will be getting close to the same level of investments that Prop 208 would have provided,” said David Lujan, President and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, one of the organizations behind Prop 208.

But if we are painting the complete picture, while the new investments for public education are certainly a bright spot in this budget, the budget package also contains millions of dollars in new tax cuts and tax credits that will threaten the sustainability of this new education funding in the future, and will make it virtually impossible to make the additional investments that would be needed to get Arizona closer to the national average in education funding. Even with these new investments, Arizona will still remain in the bottom 10 nationally in per pupil funding. Continuing to drain future state revenues through tax cuts will likely lead to big budget cuts when the next recession arrives. Expanding school vouchers will also divert even more public tax dollars away from public schools to private schools with no accountability.

Arizona still has much work to do to ensure all of Arizona’s public school students have the resources they need to succeed. We need to make sure we are electing state legislators who both support new investments in our public schools and who will put an end to the annual practice of draining future state revenues by doling out tax breaks to big corporations and the rich. That is why it is so important for Arizona voters continue to have their pro-public education voices heard this November.

Supreme Court strikes down Invest in Education Act

Last week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah was forced to rule in accordance with a confusing, heavy-handed opinion issued last year by the Arizona Supreme Court. Judge Hannah explained that the Supreme Court forced him to permanently strike down the Invest in Education Act, passed by 1.7 million Arizona voters in 2020.

Even though the Invest in Education Act had specific language exempting the new funds from the school spending limit, the Supreme Court rejected that language and ruled that if any of the newly raised funds could not be used by schools because the spending limit had been exceeded, then the entire Act would be struck down. They further ruled the entire Act would be struck down even though schools would not receive their first deposit of Invest in Education Act funding until next school year and there is no way to determine for several more months whether schools will exceed the spending limit next year; even though, as we experienced this year, the legislature could vote to lift the spending limit on a yearly basis.

Judge Hannah identified real issues in the case which would have upheld the voter-approved education funding law, but the Supreme Court’s heavy-handed decision left him no room to uphold the law. The Invest in Education Coalition will be looking into appealing the decision. Indeed, Judge Hannah noted that the Coalition would be free to argue to the Arizona Supreme Court that it should reconsider its ruling, which injected the Court into “a muddle of law and politics.”

With Arizona still at the bottom in the nation for funding public education, Children’s Action Alliance and the Arizona Center for Economic Progress remain committed to getting Arizona’s public schools the resources they need because it is so vital to building a strong future workforce and economy. And Arizona’s students deserve no less.

To learn more about the Invest in Arizona Coalition and how you can help, visit investinaznow.com.

Break the school funding cycle

The legislature has successfully addressed one of the most important issues this session by lifting the school spending limit for this school year. This allows Arizona’s public schools to spend the money they had already received and budgeted for, and avoid $1.2 billion in devastating cuts. But the threat remains. Arizona’s public schools will likely face a similar crisis next year (and probably every year thereafter) unless the legislature refers a measure to the ballot to either repeal the school spending limit permanently or, at the very least, modernize it to reflect what it costs to educate students today.

The current school spending limit is based on what it cost to educate students in 1980. While the limit is adjusted annually to account for inflation and student growth, it does not account for all of the changes that have occurred over the past four decades in how schools educate students. For example, in 1980, schools did not have computers and other technology. The need for additional school safety measures is much higher today than it was in 1980. And Arizona did not have charter schools in 1980. But the clearest evidence that Arizona needs to modernize the spending limit is that Arizona is last in the nation in funding our public schools despite already well-exceeding the spending limit. Therefore, before Arizona can increase funding for public education, we must first raise or eliminate the school spending limit. Because the school spending limit is in the state constitution, the legislature cannot make permanent changes to the spending limit – only voters can. But the legislature can refer a measure to the ballot for voters to do just that, as soon as this November’s election.

Let your state legislators know that you want them to refer a measure to the ballot this year to fix the school spending limit so that we don’t have to do this all over again next year.

2022 Governor's Budget Hits & Misses

Each year, Arizona’s legislative session begins with the Governor’s State of the State speech and the unveiling of his or her annual priorities and proposed budget. This session presents Governor Ducey a rare opportunity in his final year in office to provide much-needed help to children and families in Arizona. Despite the lingering pandemic, Arizona’s revenues have reached historic highs in large part due to the multiple federal economic rescue packages and temporary unemployment insurance expansion. Arizona currently has $1 billion in ongoing and $2.1 billion in one-time revenues. This is in addition to billions of dollars in unspent federal COVID relief dollars.

Also at the beginning of each year, Children’s Action Alliance publishes its list of legislative priorities. It is our hope each year that the Governor's priorities align with ours. This year, while we did see a few bright spots that address longstanding needs, that largely did not happen. Take a look at a comparison of where the Governors priorities and ours find common ground, and where opportunities missed the mark or weren’t addressed.

On mobile? View our printable PDF.

Early Childhood

Secure state general fund investment in child care assistance  

Not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Increase Arizona Early Intervention Program provider rates  

Nearly 11,000 children under the age of 3 who have disabilities or developmental delays receive therapies and other support from the Arizona Early Intervention Program.  Current rates paid to providers are significantly below comparable rates paid by the program that provides services to children over age 3. The Governor’s budget proposal adds $18.6 million per year starting in fiscal year 2024 to bring the rates in line with rates paid by other programs.  A temporary rate increase will be funded in fiscal year 2023 using federal dollars.

Secure state investment in Healthy Families home visitation program  

The Governor’s budget provides $10 million, of which $7.5 million is new funding and $2.5 million replaces funds that will no longer be available. Healthy Families currently serves 4,000 families. The Governor’s budget would add an additional 1,500 families. The Governor’s budget also includes a total $15 million for fiscal years 24 and 25 which would increase the program’s ability to serve 8,000 families.

Fight any use of state funds appropriated for online early education  

Not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Education

Prevent a $1.2 billion cut to public schools by authorizing an annual exemption to the K-12 expenditure cap for this school year by March 1 

If the legislature does not override the education spending limit by March 1, 2022, Arizona’s district schools will be required to cut their current year budgets by $1.2 billion.  This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Refer a measure to the ballot to update or eliminate the outdated K-12 expenditure authority.  

Not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Expand access to affordable higher education and prevent increases in student debt 

The Governor’s budget proposal increases the Promise Grant funding by $12.5 million for a total $20 million.  These additional dollars will serve an additional 3,300 students.  The Promise Grant program covers the balance of tuition that remains for students who are fully eligible for Pell grants.  

The Governor’s budget, however, continues to suspend $10 million of the statutorily required deposit into the Student Financial Aid Trust Fund. This issue is not addressed preventing tuition increases.

Reduces inequities in school funding  

The Governor’s proposal increases results-based funding for excelling schools by $60.8 million for a total $129 million.  The Governor’s proposal also includes moving this funding into the Basic State Aid appropriation where it will lose its separate identity.  Schools continue to receive results-based funding as long as they meet the criteria.  For struggling schools the Governor’s proposal includes $58 million to create the Operation Excellence program which provides $150 per student for three years.  

Family Health

Extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months (currently 60 days) 

Approximately 15,000 to 18,000 pregnant adults could benefit from extended AHCCCS coverage. This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State. 

Comprehensive adult dental coverage through Medicaid

Currently only a maximum of $1,000 annually of emergency services are available for most adult populations.  This issue is not addressed in the Governor’ budget or the State of the State.

Streamline Young Adult Transitional Insurance (YATI) re-enrollment for former foster youth 

Young adults who “age out” of foster care at age 18 are automatically eligible for enrollment in AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid program.  If they do not respond to redetermination notices or requests for additional information, often because AHCCCS does not have an accurate address, they are disenrolled.  More than 5,200 young adults are currently enrolled through YATI.  This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Children's Health

Waive the Medicaid five-year residency requirement for otherwise eligible pregnant people and kids who are lawfully present immigrants 

Between 7,000 and 11,000 Arizona children are ineligibility for the state’s health insurance program because they have not been in the US for at least five years.  This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State. Adopting the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) option would allow the state to provide high-quality health coverage to these children and to receive a higher federal reimbursement for their care. 

Provide 12-month continuous enrollment for children participating in AHCCCS or KidsCare 

More than 850,000 Arizona children are enrolled in Arizona’s Medicaid or CHIP programs. Though children who qualify are eligible for 12 months, families who experience income volatility may lose coverage due to a temporary or one-time increase. This has a negative impact on children’s health outcomes and presents an administrative burden to both AHCCCS and the families who lose coverage. This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Eliminate three-month wait period for KidsCare enrollment  

Arizona’s KidsCare program requires a child cannot be covered by any health insurance for three months prior to enrollment.  This presents a barrier to enrollment.  Even short lapses in health insurance coverage have a negative impact on children’s health outcomes.  This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.

Child Welfare & Juvenile Justice

Increase kinship foster care stipend

The Governor’s proposal quadruples the unlicensed rate from $75 to $300 per month and also increases the daily allowance that pays for clothing, school supplies, etc. This increase adds $19.8 million for a total $24.8 million for kinship placements. 

Reduced barriers to licensure for foster care and kinship care providers

Licensed foster care providers receive more than $600 a month compared to the current $75 for unlicensed kinship providers.  The Governor’s budget proposes removing barriers to licensure for kinship caregivers while maintaining home life and safety standards.

Increase the independent living subsidy provided for youth in extended foster care  

Currently, 651 former foster youth between ages 18 and 21 receive the independent living subsidy.  Currently the maximum subsidy is $715 and is reduced by $50 every six months. Neither the Governor’s budget nor the State of the State address this issue.

Reduce or eliminate juvenile court fines and fees  

This issue is not addressed in the Governor’s budget or State of the State.