By Linda Kor
Arizona’s public schools may receive a portion of the funding owed to them by the state in the near future. An agreement has reportedly been reached between the parties involved in the K-12 inflation funding lawsuit originally filed in 2010 seeking payment for funds owed to schools since 2008 totaling over $331 million.
The details of the proposed settlement include a cash payment of $175 million to schools this budget year on top of $74 million in inflation funding the legislature appropriated this year.
Schools would also get $625 million over 10 years to make up for missed inflation payments, which includes $50 million in the first five years and $75 million for the next five years. This would reset the base level funding to $3,600 per student, a $173 increase added to the $3,427 per student slated for fiscal year 2016.
The Arizona School Boards Association has responded to this latest development by stating that while this should not be viewed as solving Arizona’s long-term or short-term funding needs, or as a replacement for local funding mechanisms such as bonds and overrides, it is an acknowledgement of the fact that those needs cannot wait.
Holbrook School District Superintendent Dr. Robbie Koerperich is hopeful that the funding will receive final approval from the legislature, but remains cautious regarding the outcome. “The history regarding this matter has been unsettling, so I have to say I’ll believe it when I see the check,” he said.
If the funding should come through it would mean an extra $200,000 to $400,000 to the district, which would be divided between teachers and classroom funding. “I think we’re probably the only district in the state that has done this, but we’ve included a contingency in our teachers’ contracts that if this funding comes through, they will receive a pay increase. We want to first and foremost recognize the people who are truly getting hurt by the state withholding those funds,” stated Koerperich, adding that the remaining funds will go into the classrooms for supplies and materials.
Joseph City School Superintendent Bryan Fields is also cautiously optimistic about the potential release of funds to public schools. “It may mean the difference in us having to make cuts to programs and staff. Being a small district it feels like everything that is decided on school funding is magnified. It won’t alleviate all of our needs and concerns, but it will help us in maintaining what we currently have. It may give us some flexibility in budgetary planning for next year and the opportunity to address some of our needs,” he said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas lent her support to the proposed agreement. “I strongly support the decision makers who have come together to address the need for increased education funding, including Governor Ducey and leadership at the legislature,” said Douglas. “I am excited and pleasantly surprised to hear that the plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit were able to reach a compromise that will result in immediate new funds for our schools.”
A special legislative session was held on Wednesday to determine if the agreements will be finalized, but the outcome of that session was not known at press time.