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Thu, Nov. 21

Ducey hopes to reverse education cuts in state budget

PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey is counting on rank-and-file lawmakers to restore some of the cuts in public school funding – cuts that are in the budget deal he negotiated with Republican legislative leaders.

And there are signs that’s going to happen.

A tentative agreement being negotiated late Thursday, as of press time, would reverse a year-old decision by lawmakers to change how the state calculates aid to schools. The result would be to restore money that schools would have lost in the agreement announced earlier this week.

The deal being worked on also would scrap a proposed change in law that would penalize districts that use their own taxpayer dollars to build needed new schools.

“We’re very close,” the governor said in a Tweet.

But Ducey shares at least part of the blame for why the process has dragged on.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato acknowledged his boss agreed to the $9.58 billion spending package unveiled earlier this week. That plan already has gained approval of the Senate Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote.

But Scarpinato said despite Ducey’s blessing for the plan, his boss always believed that would not be the last word.

Pressure has been building amid increased scrutiny of the fact that the budget proposal – the one that is supposed to represent the consensus of Ducey and the GOP leaders – actually would cut the amount of money going to K-12 schools this coming year.

It also comes as Ducey is trying to convince voters to approve Proposition 123 to tap the state education trust fund to settle a lawsuit and provide more money for schools over the next decade.

More to the point, the governor, in a bid to line up votes for Prop 123, is promising that the infusion from the ballot measure is just a first step in improving education funding. The fact that the budget deal announced earlier this week would actually cut education funding makes that a harder sell.

On paper, that announced budget plan includes $132 million new funding for K-12 schools. That, however, simply reflects both the growth in the number of students as well as the voter-mandated requirement – one the state is finally obeying – to boost aid every year to account for inflation.

But that plan also would change how the state computes how much each school district gets, using each school’s current enrollment versus the number of students it had last year. That change harms more districts than it helps.

The bottom line is that K-12 funding next year under the deal Ducey agreed to would have been $21 million less than what the schools would otherwise get automatically just from enrollment and inflation.

Scarpinato said Thursday that Arizonans should not be alarmed – or read too much – into the fact that his boss was a party to the package, including the cuts to education.

“This is a framework for legislative leadership to take to members,” he said.

“The governor has made it very clear that schools need to see more money moving ahead,” Scarpinato continued. “And he is confident that the result and what comes out at the end through the budget negotiations will be something very satisfactory to the schools.”

Scarpinato said Ducey wants any final plan means more than just a larger bottom-line number. He said the governor wants Ducey wants to be sure that individual school districts have “a net increase in available dollars.”

The gubernatorial aide did not dispute that Ducey, in negotiating with legislative leaders, did not hold out for the larger K-12 spending he now says he wants. But he insisted that Ducey was quite aware that there are Republican legislators who, like he, would find that plan unacceptable and insist on the changes that are now being negotiated.

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