by Félix Pérez (image of Gov. Ducey courtesy of Gage Skidmore)
Already-reeling Arizona public schools will have to make do with even less, despite the heated objections and protests of educators, parents, students and residents. Passed in the middle of the night without any opportunity for public debate, the budget, assembled by Gov. Doug Ducey and signed last week, also eliminates all funding for the state’s three largest community college districts while imposing deep cuts on public universities.
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“Arizona is already last in the nation in per-pupil spending; this budget will keep our children at the bottom unless voters take action,” said Tucson high school English teacher and president of the Arizona Education Association Andrew Morrill. “This budget ignores the priorities of our citizens and shows no respect for the majority of parents.”
The $9.1 billion budget slashes $113.4 million from classroom materials, technology, building repairs, and more, representing an overall loss of $352.4 million to school districts when combined with the prior year’s cuts (for a reduction of more an 83 percent). The loss amounts to approximately $135 per student.
The final deal also cuts $15.6 million from Pima and Maricopa college districts and Central Arizona College — eliminating all state funding. State universities also came under the knife, losing $104 million, or 14 percent of their state support.
Prior to this budget, Arizona legislators had cut education funding by $1 billion over the last five years.
“Education is not something extra. It’s like water. It’s not something we can do without. I’ve been in education for 40 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes, but I have never seen anything like this,” Michael Cady, a retired teacher, told The Arizona Republic.
Touted by Ducey and his allies in the legislature as a lean blueprint consistent with the state’s resources and needs,the budget nevertheless includes funding increases for private, for-profit prisons, $267 million in corporate tax giveaways, $500,000 to Teach for America, and more than $100 million for a corporate tuition tax credit program for private school vouchers. Ducey was elected to office last November thanks in large measure to financial support from the Koch brothers’ political network.
Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, reacted to Ducey’s budget this way:
Governor Ducey keeps churning out press statements bragging about his focus on education and pretending that money appropriated to pay for more students and higher costs counts as a new investment. But Arizonans know better. The college students, parents, grandparents, foster parents, and children marching at the Capitol and speaking up on social media have not been fooled. We see the lists of cuts in the budget that will truly shape the school days of our next generation – larger class sizes, growing teacher shortages, less technology, weaker infrastructure, fewer options for preschool and after school education.
An editorial in The State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper, took Ducey to task over his priorities. “Ducey and Arizona Republicans have made an all but official declaration that the education of future generations is less important than the feelings of millionaires on tax day.”