As Budget Deadline Approaches, Arizona Educators Rally at Capitol to Protest Public School Spending
Published on June 22, 2022 at 06:16
Members of the Arizona Education Association gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday to again call on lawmakers to direct more of the state’s $5 billion budget surplus to public schools.
Marisol Garcia, president-elect of the organization, which represents more than 20,000 public school workers, blasted lawmakers for worrying about “imminent economic impacts, when we know economic impacts are hitting us right now in the classroom”.
“Educators … are running to other states where we know they can be paid a living wage,” she said.
In its proposed educators budget, the association is asking for $1.2 billion in funding for fiscal year 2023, with an additional $447 million in one-time expenses for bonuses, facilities, and high-speed internet.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee, by an 8-5 vote, introduced an education budget bill that would increase spending per student by 7.9 percent. However, the education association said this did not meet the needs of schools.
Cronkite News reached out to the committee chair, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, for comment, but a rep said she was unavailable and had no statement regarding the bill.
Educators also criticized a separate measure pending in the House that would allow all Arizona students to get taxpayer money to attend private school. Only certain students, including those with special needs, who are in host families or who live on Native American reservations, are currently eligible.
A separate proposal calls for $400 million in spending on public schools, but those dollars would only be available if the voucher measure becomes law.
Opponents have questioned the use of taxpayer money to expand the program as well as the conditionality of public school spending on voucher expansion. But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ben Toma, said the goal was simply to increase school choice.
“At the end of the day, it’s about making sure kids and their families have a choice of where they go,” said Toma, a Republican from Peoria. “The question becomes: how should this system work? What is the fairest way for this to happen? I would say that opening up school choice is good for the state. … I think it’s good for families.
Vouchers also figured in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday in a Maine case. The court said states that use public funds to subsidize private education cannot exclude religious institutions.
Randy Parraz, executive director of the Arizona Education Association, denounced the decision, which could further increase the spending of public funds on private education.
“Public education should be public education. People have the right to get what they want. They can do it,” he said. “Those dollars shouldn’t follow them.”
Parraz’s group has campaigned for more money for public education for years. In 2018, about 50,000 people rallied on Capitol Hill to increase spending on public schools and raise teacher salaries as part of the Red for Ed movement.
A Census Bureau report in May found Arizona was once again among the worst states in the nation for spending per student on K-12 education in 2020. The state spent $8,785 per student that year, ahead of only Utah and Idaho. And it was dead last — 51st among the states and the District of Columbia — in the amount spent on actual education, at $4,801 per student.
Garcia said educators will keep the pressure on lawmakers until a final budget bill is passed. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.
“It’s not the first or the last time we’ll be here,” she said.
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