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Education Budget Debate Colored by Lawmakers Serving on School Boards

April 17, 2009

Phoenix, AZ – As the legislature struggles to close a $3-billion budget gap, seven state representatives are juggling sometimes-conflicting responsibilities; each serves both as a lawmaker and as an unpaid member of a local school board. One of them, Rep. Tom Boone (R-Peoria), defends his dual role, saying his position as school board member is an advantage for someone tasked with making funding decisions about state education.

"I believe it absolutely gives you a great perspective because you understand more of what’s going on in public education, particularly in your own district."

Rep. Boone voted to cut $121 million from K-12 schools earlier this year, and says he will support more cuts, if necessary, to meet the constitutional requirement of a balanced budget. Roughly half of Arizona’s state spending goes for primary and secondary education, he adds.

"K-12 education is going to have to have some reductions and, hopefully, we can do those in such a way that it will not damage K-12. I won’t vote for a budget unless I believe that it will not do any permanent harm."

But, public education advocates say those responsible for overseeing school districts need to realize the harm that's caused by slashing support at the state level. They include John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association<.em>, the state's largest teacher's union. Wright believes the recent layoffs of at least 5,000 Arizona public school teachers has already caused significant damage.

"What’s baffling to me is when someone who has to vote on a budget for a school district goes down to the legislature and then votes to cut the money available to school districts."

While federal stimulus money could save some teaching jobs this year, Wright believes the debate over education funding needs to move beyond simply cutting the budget.

"We do not have a revenue structure that’s sustainable over time. We do not have responsible means of generating the income necessary to fund schools, social services, transportation and health care."

For starters, Wright would like to see tax credits for public and private school donations ended or suspended, and a statewide school property tax retained.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ