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Coalition Says More Work Needed on Funding AZ Schools

Arizona voters have approved a measure to provide $3.5 billion in school funds over the next decade, but advocates say much more money is needed to hire teachers, buy books and fix buildings. (iStockphoto)
Arizona voters have approved a measure to provide $3.5 billion in school funds over the next decade, but advocates say much more money is needed to hire teachers, buy books and fix buildings. (iStockphoto)
May 26, 2016

PHOENIX - Arizona voters narrowly approved Proposition 123 last week, which will provide inflationary funding for schools for the next decade. The same group that got that $3.5 billion funding package approved say there is a lot more work to do to bring the state's schools up to par. The group wants to get back the $1.2 billion lawmakers have cut from school budgets since 2007 in order to hire new teachers, buy current textbooks, and repair crumbling school buildings. The state's schools currently rank dead last among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.

Dick Foreman, CEO of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, said the group is taking the long view on funding education in the state. "The 123 group really did come together and made a determination long before May 17th election day that we really wanted to complete the picture of what it's going to take to get Arizona back on a path toward a more sufficient financial system," he said.

Foreman said Prop 123, which settles a longstanding lawsuit over school funding, will provide about $300 million a year. But he adds that Arizona schools are still missing $1.2 billion lawmakers have cut from education since 2007. He said that money is needed to pay for qualified teachers, classroom tools such as textbooks and computers, and repairs and maintenance for many of the state's crumbling school buildings.

Foreman said Arizona now has the money to meet those needs but state leaders don't have the political will to spend it. The group plans to work with Governor Doug Ducey and other elected officials to find additional ways to invest in Arizona schools.

Julie Bacon, president of the Arizona School Boards Association, said most local districts just aren't able to make up the difference.

"There are a lot of communities in Arizona that can't utilize local funding sources," she said. "Either they don't have enough property value in their school district or their voters simply won't approve local funding initiatives. That's the challenge when you push things to the local level in terms of funding."

Other groups involved in the coalition include the Children's Action Alliance, the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona PTA, Save Our Schools AZ and the Valley Interfaith Project, as well as several other organizations and individuals.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ