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Arizona has been criticized for years for its level of education funding. Efforts have been made to raise that in recent years, and Gov. Doug Ducey has provided leadership. Meanwhile, schools were hit hard by the pandemic, although one-time federal funding has flowed in. Now, however, an unusual situation is indicating a crazy scenario under which school districts might not be able to spend all their funds. A fix is needed quickly by the Legislature when it convenes in three months.

The root of the matter is a law passed way back in 1980 to limit taxation and public spending. Two things have happened to present a problem with that. One is that the pandemic impacted enrollment last year, and since enrollment is tied to the spending limit, the statewide decrease would be about $300 million. A bigger issue is that when legislators in 2018 renewed the 0.6% sales tax of Proposition 301 to take effect this July, the new levy was not exempted from the expenditure limitation. Prop. 301 has been a major effort to raise teacher salaries for the last two decades, and since it has been a game-changer, it should be outside the limit.

Legislative leaders seem willing to address the issue in a timely manner. But it would require a two-thirds vote and the governor’s signature. At this point, Ducey is non-committal because it is only “pending legislation,” but it is obvious this action is needed.

The 1980 law was passed as a response to a California movement for severe property tax cuts. It has worked pretty well, but it has some quirks. Many cities have had to get voter approval for regular exemptions to the expenditure limitation or a permanent change. Passing a school exemption should be a no-brainer, but discussing it now would help school districts in planning and not worrying about unrealistic budget cuts when the emphasis should be on supporting education.

— Donovan Kramer Jr.


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