Efforts to pass state budget stall over school funding concerns
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Efforts to pass state budget stall over school funding concerns

PHOENIX — Efforts to vote on a new state budget stalled as some House Republicans are objecting to what they see as a shortchanging of the public schools.

Concerns raised Tuesday as lawmakers got a closer look at the $9.58 billion spending plan include:

  • Insufficient money for charter schools sponsored by school districts;
  • Questions about whether small schools are getting enough aid;
  • A major change in how the state decides when to fund new schools, effectively penalizing those districts where voters have dug into their own pockets for buildings.

But the biggest sticking point appears to be a policy adopted last year of changing how aid to schools is calculated. That shift, set to take effect this coming school year, cuts school funding about $31 million.

Last year the state was facing an anticipated deficit. Now the state is running a surplus and has money in the bank.

But the deal hammered out between legislative leaders and the governor keeps the new funding formula.

Hoping to blunt criticism, the plan by the governor and leadership puts an additional $15.5 million into school funding.

But Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said that’s not acceptable. He said the entire $31 million needs to be restored — and in a more honest way than proposed.

“It cannot go to the Classroom Site Fund,” he said, which is what the plan proposes. That special account allows schools to get grants for things like teacher salaries and dropout prevention.

“Every school has the ability to draw down (from the fund), even some that are going to benefit from the current-year funding policy,” Shope complained. “We’ve got to go ahead and make sure it goes to the affected, declining school districts that are out there so they’re made whole.”

And while 125 school districts would get less under the new formula, more than 60 would end up winners.

For example, Chandler Unified School District would get an extra nearly $930,000. And Vail Unified would benefit to the tune of $506,000.

But the analysis done late last year by the Department of Education shows some big losses, too, like $4.5 million out of the Tucson Unified School District, $3.3 million from Gilbert schools, and almost $1.5 million from the Amphitheater district.

There are other issues that have some Republicans questioning whether they can support the budget. One is a change in when the state will build new schools.

Current law makes school construction an obligation of the state, a law put in place after the Arizona Supreme Court said it was inherently unequal to have each district, rich or poor, be responsible for new buildings and maintenance.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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