Governor Ducey needs to act now to prevent $1.4 billion cut to Arizona’s school districts
The school spending cap known as the Aggregate Expenditure Limit (AEL) is once again threatening the new investments the legislature and governor made to K-12 education. Arizona’s school districts will be forced to cut their current spending by $1.4 billion if the legislature does not act to lift the state constitution’s school spending limit. Governor Ducey and the legislature can take steps to make sure the districts are not facing deep cuts as he leaves office.
The AEL is an antiquated measure. The AEL is based on what school needs were in 1980, before computers and technology in the classroom, before safety concerns, before teacher shortages. In 1980, Arizona voters approved a limit on what school districts are allowed to spend in a year. If schools exceed the limit, as they did last year and again this year, the law allows the legislature to provide an “expenditure override” or lift the limit with a two-thirds votes in each chamber. Overriding the expenditure limit does not increase taxes and is independent of the legislature’s budget decisions. Instead, it simply allows districts to spend funds they have already received and budgeted for this school year.
Without the override, school districts will be forced to make draconian cuts before the end of the school year. Over the past eight years the Governor and legislature has added over $1.1 billion in funding for K-12 schools, including $800 million earlier this year to support high-poverty schools and students and increased more funding to the base so that schools could invest in technology, better supports for students, and teacher pay. However, Arizona school districts now face a $1.4 billion cut, nearly 20% of their total budget. Inaction by Governor Ducey and the legislature would be an economic disaster for Arizona schools, which are already experiencing teacher shortages and struggling with additional costs resulting from the pandemic.
Now is the time for Governor Ducey to call the legislature into a special session to lift the limit for the current school year so school districts can focus on educating students, and not how to cut 20% of their budget, or $1.4 billion dollars.