Typically, a governor’s budget is released each year in a small conference room at the state Capitol, where staff briefs reporters and state lawmakers with spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
This year called for something more.
Budgets are about real people. The investments we make with the valuable dollars taxpayers have given us have an impact on the citizens of Arizona. And with more than 80 percent of our new spending priorities this year going to public education, we wanted to make it clear where the priority is: Our kids and hard-working teachers.
That's why I stood in unity Tuesday with superintendents, educators and elected officials representing more than 50 Arizona school districts to unveil our education budget. It was an event where we celebrated the successes within our public schools and agreed on a plan moving forward to accelerate our investment.
Together with the education community, we’ve put forward a blueprint that finally restores cuts made during the Great Recession to a significant part of the school funding formula, and boosts funding in a way that treats all schools and students equally – no matter their location or affluence.
Restoring cuts frees cash for teachers
With this plan, we have the potential to end another divisive lawsuit, and instead of paying lawyers, we can get more dollars to those who deserve it most: Our teachers.
At the heart of our plan is a full restoration of $371 million to a key part of the education funding formula that has been frozen for some time – it’s called Additional Assistance. These are per-pupil dollars that will be permanent and flexible, and impact all public schools in our state, including districts and charters.
The funding is phased in over five years. It provides schools new dollars and certainty. And our plan is fiscally responsible, so we keep our budget balanced.
While traditionally used for things like building maintenance, textbooks, computers, buses or school equipment, school leaders will maintain the flexibility to use these dollars where they are needed most.
Moreover, reversing cuts to additional assistance will free up operational dollars currently used for these needs that can now be used for their intended purpose: Increasing teacher salaries.
That's enough to make a real difference
These dollars will make a real difference. Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to some of the most respected educational leaders in the state.
Mike Cowan, superintendent of Mesa public schools – the largest school district in the state – said: “These are real dollars that will be put into the system now to help the students that we’re currently serving. I’m proud to support this plan.”
Camille Casteel, superintendent of Chandler Unified School District, said the proposal “will impact all students regardless of their education choice, socioeconomic status, or place of residence. Restoring this formula will help every child in Arizona and will provide the much needed relief immediately.”
And Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail Unified School District, called the plan “a very significant step towards better funding and thus more opportunities for our students.”
Budget includes another $300m for K-12
The budget provides $300 million in additional funding for K-12 education, including:
- $116 million for student growth and inflation;
- $88.1 million for the construction of new schools;
- $51.8 million for grants to improve or repair aging school facilities;
- $34 million for the second year of a teacher salary increase, bringing the total to $68 million;
- $4 million to continue expanding funding for all-day kindergarten and other critical early childhood programs in our low-income schools;
- $2.5 million to expand a successful computer science initiative;
- $2 million to fully fund our career and technical programs in high schools;
- And that doesn’t include our plan to fund new school buses, which will be released in the coming weeks.
How that helps the teacher shortage
Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature gave teachers a raise as part of this year's budget. But that's highly unusual. Normally, schools are in charge of how much their teachers are paid. Wochit
It’s important to remember where we were a few years ago. In 2015, our state was still recovering from the Great Recession. We entered that year with a $1 billion budget shortfall.
Today, with a growing economy, 160,000 new private sector jobs and a balanced budget, we have dollars to invest.
There’s still a lot of work to do, but we are making progress.
Overall per student spending is up 10 percent since 2015. Over the last three years, we’ve committed 1.7 billion new state dollars to K-12 education. And over that time frame, school districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by 9 percent.
This helps address the teacher shortage, because dollars are being used to hire new teachers. But it’s also resulting in teacher raises – they are up 5 percent over the last three years across our state. Since Proposition 123 was approved by voters in 2016, school districts are investing over $180 million more in teacher salaries than three years ago.
The bottom line is that principals, superintendents and school board members are directing all these new dollars where they should go, to our dedicated teachers. So, we want to give them the resources to continue investing in the areas that matter most.
Our schools are making great progress
We are also seeing some measurable signs of progress in Arizona public education:
- Four of the top five public high schools in America are right here in Arizona.
- Arizona students continue to lead the nation in improvements in reading and math.
- Three Arizona school districts – Chandler, Peoria and Washington Elementary – placed in the top 20 nationwide for academic gains.
It’s clear: We know how to provide a quality education to children in the state of Arizona. The key now is that we need to do it more often and in more locations across our state. These dollars will help make that happen.
We know what works and we know how to get big ideas done. We’ve done it before.
Prop. 123 was the result of a partnership between Democrats and Republicans, the education and business communities, voters and, of course, our teachers – the biggest difference-makers of them all.
If we are to succeed on future efforts around public education, we must work in the same way: Together.
With this plan, we are demonstrating we can do just that. By listening to school leaders and working with them, we’ve put together a plan that gets more dollars to our schools.
For more information or assistance, contact Governor Ducey's press office: (602) 542-1342.