The budget released this month by newly elected Governor Doug Ducey has raised howls from across the education community. No one howled louder than Tucson Unified School District’s Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.
Sanchez, and Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Board president Adelita Grijalva issued a statement and took to the airwaves to talk about the great inequities of Ducey’s budget. They especially took exception to Ducey’s call for schools to funnel more money into the classrooms despite the fact that the District receives more money than most publically funded districts in the state.
At the same time Ducey has been criticized for his proposed $113 million reduction in non-classroom spending from the District Additional Assistance fund, and proposed increase in prison funding, the State Legislature is locked horns with districts over $1.2 billion in back payments in inflation funding at issue in the Cave Creek v. Ducey lawsuit.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much wiggle room according to bipartisan forces. The State is in a budget crisis and money is tight. As a result, much attention has been brought to the funding of schools – schools like those in the Tucson Unified School District.
Over the years, the Arizona Tax Research Association has studied school funding. Recently, ATRA released a revealing power point presentation on desegregation dollars.
While only 2 districts ever had a court order to desegregate: TUSD, and Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD), 33 districts had agreements with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR),” according to ATRA.
A.R.S. §15-910 (G-J), provides “that school districts may levy property taxes in excess of the state’s limits without voter approval if the district has either a court order of desegregation or an administrative agreement with OCR. According to ATRA, “This exemption from the limits may continue even after the court order is lifted or the OCR agreement expires,” read the ATRA presentation. “The levy amount was hard capped in 2009.”
A special study conducted by the Auditor General in 1990, found that some of the expenditures by the districts using desegregation funds were not “clearly related to desegregation orders and agreements.” At the time, “the Auditor General recommended stronger accountability, separate reporting, and budget supplanting rules,” according to ATRA.
Little changed. In TUSD, according to plaintiff representatives, the desegregation dollars have simply kept segregation alive. In 2009, TUSD was granted “unitary” status, only to have it rescinded 2 years later by the Ninth Circuit Court because TUSD “failed to monitor, evaluate, and report.” Although the law provides that desegregation dollars “may continue even after the court order is lifted or the OCR agreement expires,” TUSD’s administration believes taxpayers will demand relief and want payments stopped once the District achieves “unitary” status again.
However, the students of TUSD might not be the only victims of the District’s inequity. ATRA argues that the desegregation scheme is inequitable to all of the state’s students. They argue that A.R.S. §15-910 (G-H) runs afoul of Arizona’s constitutional requirement in Article XI, §1, that the “legislature shall enact laws such as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system.” ATRA notes that:
• Existing school finance structure is founded on principles of equity in per-pupil expenditures and taxpayer burdens
• Any exceptions to equity must meet a very high threshold of specialized, if not unique, necessary costs
Still, treating all kids the same is inherently unfair given the disparate nature of children, and their circumstances. Many say that “throwing money at schools is no solution,” and they are mostly right.
However, in Arizona, where anti-traditional public school politicians do all they can to give charters and private schools the advantage, not spending money is not a solution either.
As one long time educator said of the situation, “The irony is that these same politicians who won’t “throw money at schools” are all too willing to “throw it” into the black hole of private education where a huge chunk gets spent making the owners of the schools richer. And they do this even though kids in private (privately owned) schools almost never get assessed by the same tests that public school kids have to endure. Even if I grant that throwing money at schools is a problem, I would have to say that starving them is even less of a solution. In Arizona, many poor districts have been starved of funds. TUSD is not one of those districts. Because of deseg money TUSD has the opportunity to make choices about how it will spend money. Too often the choices are made for reasons that have nothing to do with kids’ education. That should be a crime. Governor Ducey is right – more money needs to be spent in the classroom and less on administration. Superintendent Douglas is right – Arizona’s teachers are woefully underpaid.”
Many education advocates hope that the current fiscal crisis will compel a thorough examination of our school funding. ATRA took a great first step and tackled a subject that is too often treated as a “third rail.” The rest should be easy in comparison.
ATRA Power Point Presentation