Legislative Democrats and an official from the state's largest teacher union said a proposal to delay notifying teachers if they would have a job after this school year is designed to provide political cover, not to help school districts.
The legislation, which was approved March17 by a House panel and will be taken up later today by a Senate committee, would allow school districts to notify teachers if their contracts will be renewed by June 15, a month later than current law requires.
Right now, state law requires teachers with less than three years' experience be notified by April 15 if their contracts will not be renewed, while veteran educators must be told by May 15.
Republicans are pushing the bill, said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, because it will "provide time and cover to Republicans who are planning to make historic cuts to education."
A list of potential cuts released in January by the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees identified $892 million in cuts to K-12 education in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July.
Those cuts would be on top of $133 million taken from schools in January, which lawmakers used to close a $1.6 billion hole in the current year's budget.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the assistant minority leader in the House, said that more than $1 billion in federal stimulus aid coming to Arizona over the next two years specifically for education should remove the need to make any further education cuts.
"There is no need to go below (the funding level) we have now," she said.
John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said the legislation would only delay when teachers would find out if they are going to be laid off. Knowing that sooner would help them find new jobs quicker, he said.
On March 17, a lobbyist from the Arizona School Boards Association told lawmakers that the bill would give them flexibility in coping with possible cuts to education. By delaying the deadline for teacher contracts, school administrators could have a better idea about the funding levels under consideration at the Legislature.
Because there are no firm details on a budget for the upcoming year, district officials told the House Appropriation committee they will be forced to notify hundreds more teachers of potential layoffs than will actually be eliminated, which could drive talented teachers out of the state.
But Sen. Linda Lopez, who spent 18 years on the Sunnyside Unified School District governing board, said all teacher contracts contain language that outlines the job is contingent on the Legislature providing adequate funding. That eliminates the need for this bill, she said.
School administrators have been asking for this change for years, Sinema said, and Republicans have always rejected it – until now, when there is a push to make deep cuts to education spending.
"The only thing that is new is that (Republican) individuals in the House and Senate have decided that they want to cut education massively," she said.