The state of education is in a waiting game as lawmakers work to put out, and ultimately pass, an official state budget. A preliminary version leaked last week appears to show some additional investments in education, but State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman tells ABC15's Danielle Lerner there is plenty more work to be done.
If the preliminary version of the budget holds true, the state will allocate an additional $50 million toward special education, an additional $1 million for gifted programs and $5 million toward an "extraordinary special needs fund." That fund is new this year to give an extra buffer to school districts and charters.
Hoffman emphasized those line items are great initial steps, however she says she's disheartened and feels like education still does not appear to be a top priority. Her biggest concern revolves around the proposed switch to a flat, 2.5% income tax, which could permanently decrease state revenue by $1.5 billion.
"There's still so much need across our state to make sure that our students have the resources they need, especially going into the summer and the next school year, so I'm really worried about what this would mean for the future of our schools," Hoffman said. "The legislature is sitting on a billion-dollar rainy day fund and a massive surplus... to me, there's really no excuse for lawmakers to not reallocate and reinvest in our public school system."
Additional priorities for the Department of Education include the need for more mental health supports, better access to technology and early literacy, especially coming out of the pandemic.
When it comes to her relationship with Governor Ducey, Hoffman says their offices continue working closely on priorities they both share, like early literacy and expanded broadband access. However, she added the governor's surprise executive orders in recent months, mandating schools to open and rescinding the mask mandate for schools, felt like a "slap in the face," and have made their working relationship more challenging.