Arizona school funding may be back on track, but districts worry for next year

Posted at 8:25 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 13:41:16-05

PHOENIX — State lawmakers moved to advance a resolution to allow Arizona school districts to spend the remainder of the funds allocated in their budgets, on Monday.

Districts and parents around the Valley have been in limbo as the state legislature delayed raising the aggregate expenditure limit, which is the cap that K-12 schools are authorized to spend during the school year. The money was already approved in last year's state budget but since the amount is over the limit set by a formula enshrined in the state constitution, lawmakers must waive the cap to allow schools to spend money that they already have.

The cap must be raised by March 1, if not school districts could lose more than $1.1 billion in budget cuts.

ABC15 spoke to Cartwright School District in Phoenix which has more than $18 million in the bank that it is not allowed to spend. Chief Financial Officer Victoria Farrar said their district must plan for the worst-case scenario.

"We've done some number crunching, and it's really 49 days of furlough," she told ABC15. "So that's 49 days of every individual that's employed by our district that would not be paid."

For the 15,000 students in Cartwright School District, that means classes would end two months early on March 31.

"This is really critical for them to be able to finish the school year without interruption," Farrar said.

The Republican majority, which controls what bills are heard, had been waiting on a decision from the State Supreme Court about the constitutionality of Proposition 208. A voter initiative passed in 2020, that would raise income taxes on wealthier Arizonans as a permanent funding source for education.

But raising the cap would only solve this year's problem.

Senator Christine Marsh (D-Phoenix) introduced bills to raise the cap and create a permanent fix. None were assigned to a committee, and she fears districts will be in the same position next year.

"This is not how governing is supposed to go. And this is not an accident. These are intentional decisions. It does not have to be this way," Marsh told ABC15.

Farrar said the uncertainty has real-world implications.

"This really needs to become a permanent fix, because districts cannot function in issue contracts without knowing exactly what their budgets are," Farrar said.