Schools could get $110M infusion

But there's an $82 million hitch; Brewer's budget also boosts CPS
2013-01-19T00:00:00Z Schools could get $110M infusionHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer is proposing a $8.9 billion spending plan for next year.

That 4.8 percent increase over what lawmakers approved for this year would include:

• An extra almost $110 million for education funding, much of it to assist in teaching the new "common core" standards and for a financial incentive program to encourage schools to improve.

• Nearly $63 million more for Child Protective Services and related services for children.

• Although Brewer is pushing an expansion of the state Medicaid program, there is no increased budget funding. The $88 million required this year and $256 million the following year would come from a special assessment on hospitals.

The increase comes even though programs the governor wants to increase on top of current spending demands exceeds the state's anticipated revenues. But the books balance because the state expects to have $725 million left over at the end of this year.

That spending level also is possible despite the fact the state remains $2.6 billion in debt. Other than scheduled payments, Brewer proposes to add an only extra $40 million a year to reduce that figure.

But there's a potential catch to the whole plan.

Brewer's budget does not include the extra $82 million the state Court of Appeals earlier this week said the state had to provide schools in voter-mandated inflation adjustments.

John Arnold, the governor's budget director, said if the court decision stands the money would have to come from somewhere else.

"We certainly can't fund everything," Arnold continued. "If ultimately we are required to put new dollars into the system that are just inflation dollars, that would be disruptive to the rest of the budget proposal."

Even without that inflation boost, the biggest single proposed increase is in education, with Brewer proposing to add $109.9 million for both K-12 and higher education.

Of that, $40 million is in one-time funding to help prepare teachers for the new "common core standards" that were adopted in 2010 but are supposed to be fully implemented in 2014. The money is to train teachers to the new standards and provide instructional materials and new technology for the classroom.

The funds will be awarded on a per-pupil basis, giving gives each district the ability to decide what it needs.

"They're all in a little different place," he said.

But the needs go beyond that.

Arnold pointed out the new standards require tests which students are supposed to take online.

He said the standard is supposed to be having one computer for every five students; Arizona's current standard has one for every eight. Brewer's budget includes $20 million.

"Quite frankly, we don't know if $20 million is going to cover it," Arnold said. But he said some districts probably already are at the 1:5 standards. And others will be able to get by with less expensive tablets rather than full-blown computers.

Brewer also proposes spending $3.6 million to help schools hire "resource officers," police officers specially trained to work in schools. That, however, will still leave most schools out.

Lawmakers and the governor eliminated all general-fund spending for the resource officers years ago. That left only $7.8 million allocated as part of the 2000 voter-approved measure raising the state sales tax by six-tenths of a cent, money they could not touch.

Brewer proposes to add back $3.6 million in state funds, conditional on schools providing a dollar-for-dollar match, which Arnold estimated would cover about 200 officers serving a fraction of the more than 2,000 schools in the state.

But Arnold said that still would cover every school that has previously sought state dollars.

The budget also includes $15.3 million in new tax dollars for university operations. That will be combined with $7.7 million the three schools already are getting to be reallocated on a new performance standard adopted by the Board of Regents to reward progress in things like the number of degrees awarded and gains in external research funds.

Based on that, Arnold figures Arizona State University will get $12.6 million, with $5.7 million for the University of Arizona and $4.8 million for Northern Arizona University.

On top of that, ASU and NAU will get additional dollars for "parity funding" designed to address what has historically been higher per-student aid to UA. There also is $20 million for the universities to divide up in one-time funds for furniture, computers and equipment, as well as $8 million for the UA's College of Medicine in Phoenix.

State aid to community colleges, however, will decrease slightly.

Brewer does propose to restore funding for capital construction - money that disappeared three years ago - but at only half the rate called for in the formula. To make that go further, though, her plan gives nothing to the Pima and Maricopa systems.

Arnold said that loss just doesn't matter as much to the two largest colleges.

"A few hundred thousand dollars of capital for Cochise County really means something," he said. "A few hundred thousand dollars in the one-point-something billion-dollar Maricopa community-college district budget, how much does that really change their lives?"

The governor also wants $4.4 million immediately to hire 50 new workers for Child Protective Services and another $18.7 million to add 150 more. The agency currently has 1,075 caseworkers.

There also is another $48.6 million for things like emergency child placement and foster care.

Arnold said the need is great. He said over the last four years the number of reports to CPS has increased 32 percent.

"That's led to an even more horrible number of children in out-of-home care," he said, with more than 14,000 youngsters now in the legal custody of CPS. "That's put extreme pressure not just on our CPS caseworkers but on the entire child safety net."

On StarNet: To read more about local and state government and political news go to azstarnet.com /news/local/govt-and-politics

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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