I've been reserving judgment until I could more fully digest the preliminary settlement terms offered by Gov. Ducey, Pres. Biggs and Speaker Gowan to the K-12 inflation funding lawsuit. We may or may not go into Special Session tomorrow to consider it. I still am open to making this work somehow, but it sure looks like a bad deal for kids right now.
The Governor and legislative majority, who stole voter-required inflation money from our schools for five years (while funding corporate tax cuts instead) and have had a judge order that the money be restored, are offering to pay 72% of what the judge ordered in ongoing annual funding and half of the back pay owed, paid for by additional withdrawals from education trust funds that are already guaranteed to schools (and requires voter approval at an $8 million special election that can't be held before next May, plus possible congressional action), at a rate that puts at risk the future principal of the fund and creates a funding cliff ten years from now that could force future cuts. This despite the fact that we have enough surplus to pay it all out of surplus funds RIGHT NOW, as the Democratic plan offers.
The plaintiffs don't want to continue to press the suit through additional appeals because they believe it will take too long and the outcome may be uncertain, despite the overwhelming public demand for more funds for public schools.
It's like the Governor, Speaker and President are offering to break into our house, steal our money, and give 72% of it back to us. And we agree not to press charges because a trial might take too long.
Additionally, there are poison pills built into the deal that allow the legislature to not pay inflation costs if job growth or sales tax growth is less than 2% annually, a fairly common occurrence in AZ. And if education spending is ever 49% or more of the state budget, not only is inflation funding not allowed, the education budget can be cut by the amount of inflation money funded the previous year. That percentage can be artificially boosted by intentionally reducing state revenues through tax cuts.
There is no provision offered to restore the cuts to JTED and CTE programs, which are currently in a death spiral due to last year's budget axe.
We are currently 50th in the country in state support for K-12. The increased amount going to schools in a best case with this deal would be $173 per student in all. To give you some perspective, it would take $2,000 more per student to get us tied with Texas for 48th in state support for K-12.
We need a lot more investment in our schools to move the needle in a positive direction and give our kids the education they deserve and our economy the boost it needs. We have one of the highest rates of poverty in the country, and public education is the most reliable tool we have to lift people out of poverty.
The plaintiffs have said they believe this settlement deal is only a start -- we need much more funding to reach merely adequate levels. I agree.
However I have not heard anyone on the other side state that they are ready to look for more funding over and above this deal. The Governor, President, and Speaker believe this is all they need to do to convince the public that they support public education. No more.
To believe they will act to get more funding for schools later, after this deal removes the current level of public pressure, is politically naive.
If we approve this deal, it looks to me that our schools may actually be worse off than before the deal, with those poison pills written in, and the lessened public pressure to restore further funds. That should be in no one's interest.
I will be working with all willing legislative partners to create a better deal that works for our kids, not for politics. Let's hope we are successful.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
If you like my representation and want to keep me in office, CONTRIBUTE TODAY!
If you live in LD9 and would like to sign my online nominating petition for re-election in 2016, SIGN HERE