By Linda Kor
Governor Doug Ducey will be looking to the voters next year to support his plan to infuse an additional $2 billion into K-12 education. Ducey unveiled his plan earlier in the month to fund the increase not through taxes, but through the state land trust’s permanent fund. The proposal would increase the contribution from 2.5 percent to 10 percent each year for the next five years. It would then drop to five percent and expire. With the funding proposed by Ducey, that amount would increase by $300 per pupil over the next 10 years.
While any increase would be welcomed by public schools, a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that even with the increase Arizona would still rank nearly last in the nation for the amount of funding per pupil in public education, ahead of only Utah and Idaho. According to the study, schools in Arizona received $3,400 per pupil in 2013, while the national average stands at $10,700.
Winslow School District Superintendent Lance Heister has doubts about Ducey’s proposal, believing it to be a political move to divert some of the attention the governor has received for funding cuts for public schools. “This could’ve been done years ago, but all of a sudden it’s being proposed as a way to add funds. Even if it passed through voters, the legislature would still have to put it into law and why would they suddenly divert funding to offset education cuts when they’re facing a $1.3 billion deficit?” asked Heister.
If the funds do become available, they will likely not be accessible until 2017 and Heister believes it unlikely that it would ever reach traditional public schools. “I have seen studies that show as many as 75 percent of our legislators are stakeholders in charter schools, even our own legislator Sylvia Allen has a charter school in Snowflake. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I can’t help feeling that if there is a way to divert those funds to charters, then that’s what will happen,” he said.
Holbrook School District Superintendent Robbie Koerperich also has doubts about the proposal. “I think there’s just too many unknowns at this time. Even if it went through, it could go away in five years when Ducey’s term is up. It’s not something we can count on,” said Dr. Koerperich.
Both superintendents feel uneasy about relying on funds that may come from the state when a majority of their budgets go to human resources. As much as 80 percent of a district’s budget goes to human resources, and to hire personnel only to have to let them go when the funds are diverted or stopped after five years is something neither district is willing to do.