Apr 042014

By Tammy Gray
Continued legislative wrangling over the state budget has left the issue of skipped inflation payments to public schools largely drowned out in the battles over child welfare, private prison and charter school funding.
In order to meet a voter-mandated inflation increase, which the legislature ignored during the recession, the budget needed to include an increase of at least $380 million in K-12 funding. That number is based on the amount schools would be due this year if the state had funded the increase each year. Holbrook schools would receive approximately $500,000 of that amount, if it were included in the budget.
The governor’s budget proposal included an increase of $70 million for public K-12 schools. Her budget underwent several changes, however, as it went through the Senate to the House, and then back to the Senate. The House budget, which was passed on March 28, included an increase to K-12 funding. That budget went to the Senate, which spent much of April 1 debating and dissecting the House budget.
Senators removed controversial funding for private prisons in the amount of $900,000 and cut additional charter school funding in half, from $33 million to $16.5 million, but left a 1.4 percent increase in K-12 funding intact. That amount does not, however, take into account the skipped payments or what the increase should have been if the voter mandate had been followed all along. For example, the Senate budget includes funding at a rate of $3,373.11 per student, up from $3,326.54. If the state had adhered to the increases all along, the total should be at $3,560 for the upcoming fiscal year.
Holbrook Unified School District Business Manager Garry McDowell noted that regardless of the amount of the increase included in the final budget, it does not address the skipped payments to public schools.
“As you know, the voters approved a basic annual increase to the state’s per pupil funding level when Proposition 301 was passed way back in 2000-2001. However, the legislature ignored this voter mandate during the recession,” he noted. “The state Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature needs to address their inappropriate action. It is also important to note that Proposition 301 was actually drafted by the legislature and then referred to the voters by the legislature. As passed by voters statewide it requires, among other things, an annual increase to per student funding for K-12 education through the year 2020.”
That amount of the skipped payments totals nearly $1.3 billion as of this year. Public schools are suing the state for payment. Attorney Don Peters, who is handling the case, has indicated that the schools would be willing to settle the matter and forgo the $1.3 billion payment if the legislature will simply increase per student funding based on the rate that would currently apply if payments had not been skipped, which would be $3,560 per student in the coming fiscal year.
The Senate budget now goes to Governor Jan Brewer. Higher profile changes to the budget, such as the elimination of the governor’s proposed $80 million for a new child protection agency, have created some doubt as to whether she will approve the budget or send it back to the legislature for revisions.