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5:49 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Classroom supplies legislation resurrected, but not a done deal

PHOENIX — A measure to help teachers pay for classroom supplies cleared a critical hurdle Thursday as state lawmakers resurrected it from political death.

But its future still remains uncertain.

On a 34-20 margin the House approved HB 2377 which allocates $8.7 million this coming school year that teachers can use for everything from pencils and paper to sheet music. That translates out to about $150 per teacher.

The same measure also provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for teachers against what they owe in state income taxes for their out-of-pocket expenses, up to another $150 a year.

What makes Thursday’s vote so significant is it comes exactly two weeks after the identical measure went down to defeat with only 23 lawmakers in favor. That left it to Republican Rep. Todd Clodfelter and Democrat Rep. Kirsten Engel, both from Tucson, to lobby colleagues to change their minds.

While the measure has bipartisan support, it also has bipartisan opposition. And Clodfelter told Capitol Media Services he may have to make alterations to ensure the measure survives in the Republican-controlled Senate where it now goes.

But Engel, who originally had proposed a much larger appropriation, said she will oppose further dilution of the legislation.

Central to the issue is the broad consensus that many teachers are using their own money to buy supplies that are not provided by their schools. Where there is a difference of opinion is how best to deal with that problem.

The measure has been opposed by some of the more fiscally conservative Republicans. That is not necessarily a surprise, given the potential $17 million annual price tag for both the outright appropriation and the tax credit in a year when some want to use whatever extra dollars are available for tax breaks.

But the bipartisan legislation also drew flak from some Democrats who said the measure draws attention away from dealing with what they say is the real solution: adequately fund schools and increase teacher salaries.

“This bill cannot substitute for the state fulfilling their obligation, in my opinion, or their responsibility to provide public resources for school supplies for every child in every classroom,’’ said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley.