The Arizona School Boards Association, via its AZEDNEWS.com is justifying widespread calls for bond issues and budget overrides with the following sensational headline: Steep Cuts Increase Number Of Districts Calling For Bonds, Overrides Increases By 150%
According to the Arizona School Boards Association, “The Arizona Legislature cut per-student funding by 17.8 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report released in October 2014.” Wow! If that is true, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. If that is true, then of course you have no choice but to support your district’s override or bond proposal.
Before we go any farther, we have to ask whether it is true. Is it?
Among the endless demands we make of our educators is the insistence that they teach our children to engage in critical thinking. We must do the same. We must ask ourselves if we are basing our support for the various overrides and bonds on reliable and unbiased information. We must consider the source, and then form our opinion.
According to the Weekly Standard, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a distinct bias as expected of a liberal think tank. With a clear bias, we must find a more reliable source like the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
The bipartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee is tasked with providing the Arizona Legislature “with sound research, analysis, forecasts and recommendations on government finances and public policies; and to provide the members with high quality work that is factual and delivered in a timely and professional manner, enabling the members to make informed public policy decisions that are in the best interests of the citizens of Arizona.”
Members include JLBC House Chair Representative Justin Olsen, Senate Chair Senator Don Shooter, Representative Lela Alston, Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford, Representative Russell “Rusty” Bowers, Senator Steve Farley, Representative Stefanie Mach, Senator Gail Griffin, Representative Darin Mitchell, Senator Katie Hobbs, Representative Steve Montenegro, Senator John Kavanagh, Representative David Stevens, Senator Debbie Lesko, Representative Michelle Ugenti, and Senator Steve Yarbrough.
In response to the Arizona School Boards Association claims, Jose Borrajero, an expert on the Legislature crunched the JLBC numbers. He discovered that K-12 funding is at the highest level since 2009, both in the raw number of dollars, and in the percentage of the total state budget. In his calculations, Borrajero only looked at Arisona State funding. He did not include any of the other K-12 sources of funding, like property taxes, bonds, and the like.
|JOINT LEG. BUDGET COMM.|
|All numbers = $ Billions||CHANGE|
|TOTAL STATE BUDGET||8.603||7.725||8.249||8.648||8.620||8.662||9.294||9.169||106.58%|
|EDU TOT / TOT AZ BUDGET||55.24%||54.76%||51.69%||50.42%||51.48%||54.09%||52.55%||52.92%|
|K-12 TOT / TOT AZ BUDGET||45.50%||44.50%||40.78%||42.23%||43.31%||45.60%||44.29%||45.71%|
Borrajero points out that while Arizona School Boards Association’s claim may be factually accurate, it contains two major flaws. First, it fails to disclose that the whole state budget was reduced by roughly the same percentage. Revenues hit bottom and every agency took deep cuts, and many took cuts deeper than K-12 education. The second flaw is that the numbers used are for FY 2008 – FY 2012, as if the earth has stopped spinning in 2012. But what about FY 2012 – FY 2016? During this period, K-12 funding INCREASED by 14.76%, over twice the 6.02% increase in the total state budget.
Borrajero says it is worth noting that the percentage of funding that schools are spending in the classroom has been steadily decreasing, regardless of whether overall funding has increased or decreased.
Borrajero recommends that citizens concerned about how their tax dollars are spent should be taking a very close look at what is really going on in the area of school funding and spending before blindly voting for bond issues and/or budget overrides.