While the Arizona Republican Assembly (AzRA) firmly believes that the K-12 District School System in Arizona was adequately funded with the $10.041 Billion (JLBC) in tax revenue – not counting non-tax revenues – it received in the last fiscal year (the highest in history), we also understand that sometimes it is time to stop the fighting and look to the future. Therefore, while we do not endorse that huge increase in taxpayer liability to a system that is dysfunctional, we will not actively fight the implementation if certain safeguards are put in place for the expenditure of the funds.
First, and foremost, the schools must restore spending to the classroom to the FY2006 levels by FY2018 using the Auditor General Dollars to the Classroom definition. Further, the district schools must meet the national average for spending to the classroom using the Auditor General Dollars to the Classroom definition by FY2021. The message from the ASBA has always been that we owe it to the teachers and the children. It is time to put that rhetoric into practice and put the money into the classroom. In furtherance of these goals, there must be real and actionable penalties for any school district that does not meet the stated goals.
Second, the plan published on September 22 by the Classrooms First Initiative Council advocates the elimination of the Auditor General “Dollars to the Classroom Report”. The $$$ to the Classroom Report must be retained as we move forward. In addition, there must be no redefinition of the term “Classroom Spending”. Last year, much confusion was created when SB1476 directed school districts to display FUNCTION 1000, FUNCTION 2100 and FUNCTION 2200 on the cover of their budget submissions to the ADE. FUNCTION 1000 – Instruction is the only yardstick defined nationally to determine classroom spending by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and used by the Arizona Auditor General every year since 2001. Any change in that definition will dramatically impact the public’s ability to hold their school officials accountable.
The “Dollars to the Classroom Report” in conjunction with the “Superintendents Annual Financial Report” (SAFR) are the only transparent documents that are easily read, understood and consistent from year to year. We call for one additional item to be included on the SAFR report – A Total Revenue from All Sources Item. Currently all the items on the report only capture state tax, local tax and federal tax revenues. There are Billions of additional revenues that school districts receive from other sources that are not accounted for in these reports and should be made transparent.
Third, there must be strong statutory mandates and penalties for failure to follow those mandates whenever non-elected people are expending billions of taxpayer dollars. The Classrooms First Initiative Council proposes to place school finance laws in State Board of Education rules or policy handbooks rather than statute. Taking school finance laws out from under the scrutiny of the legislature is one of the most dangerous proposals we can think of. While this may not seem the time or place to have this discussion, we believe that when you have the power of the purse at your disposal, it is exactly the time to have this discussion. Once you give the money from the purse, you lose the power.
Last, the headline in the Capitol Times reads: “Education officials say $3.5 billion finance deal would stabilize school funding” If that is true, now is the time to eliminate ALL override and bond proposals as part of this huge new funding. As you know, the courts ruled a few years ago that every student deserved equal education opportunity and overrides and bonding violated the essence of that ruling. In addition, the people of Arizona are taxed enough already and need your protection – especially those on fixed incomes who are literally being taxed out of their homes.
The Bottom Line: We disagree with the need for any additional money for K-12 education and even more strongly disagree with any abdication of legislative authority as proposed by the Classrooms First Initiative Council. Thank you for your time and attention and please ensure responsible fiscal policy by applying appropriate fiscal restraints.
Thayer Verschoor, President
Arizona Republican Assembly