In a session to be celebrated for many historic accomplishments, from passing the Drought Contingency Plan to securing raises for the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day, one stands above the rest – Arizona’s continued growing investment in public education.
If you want to see what a state prioritizes, look at how it spends its resources. In Arizona, there’s no question. Education continues to be our number one budget priority, with more than $700 million in funding increase for K-12 and higher education. And what stands out about many of these investments is that they are directly tied to reforms and improvements that will benefit Arizona students.
- State General Fund spending for K-12 public schools will total roughly $5.5 billion.
- Of new General Fund spending in FY2020, funding for K-12 public schools totaled $660 million, or 54 percent of that increase.
- Since 2015, Arizona has added over $4.5 billion new dollars to K-12.
- During that time, per-pupil spending has increased by over 17 percent.
In total, this year’s budget adds $518 million above and beyond inflation for K-12 public schools – a far cry from the lawsuits and divisive fights of just a few years ago. These dollars represent permanent, ongoing resources that teachers, principals, superintendents and school board members can count on.
It should be no surprise that the biggest difference makers in the classroom – our teachers –receive the biggest share of education dollars. The budget adds $165 million to fulfill the second installment of 20 percent teacher raises by school year 2020. These new dollars come on top of last year’s $306 million investment, an amount that will grow to $645 million every year for teachers by school year 2020.
We also know, and had many discussions about, the importance of flexible spending that schools can put toward their biggest needs – whether that’s textbooks, building upgrades or raises for classified staff.
That’s why this budget accelerates the restoration of what’s known as “additional assistance,” operational funding that was cut during the recession, by adding $136 million, bringing the total restored money over the last two years to $236 million.
In addition to resources, this budget focuses on results, especially in places where educators and kids are beating the odds. Every child in Arizona should have access to an excellent education, no matter where they live or what circumstances they were born into. Results-based funding has provided many schools the resources needed to expand successful approaches. This year’s budget provides a total of $70 million to incentivize and grow programs proven to work, with a sharp focus on improving access for students in low-income neighborhoods.
As our economy continues to evolve, so too must education. That’s where Career and Technical Education (CTE) can help. This year’s budget adds $10 million for the creation of a new program that incentivizes schools to offer more CTE instruction, and rewards them for every student who graduates with a certificate for an in-demand field. In addition to this, there’s also a renewed investment in our community colleges because we know these programs work hand-in-hand.
Another priority high on the list – school maintenance. School districts across the state increasingly are facing end of life cycle repairs that need to be addressed. This year’s budget meets that demand, providing a total of $80 million for building renewal grants in fiscal year 2020, a 56 percent increase over the last fiscal year, and a $25 million supplemental to fulfill the existing requests needed for the current fiscal year.
In addition to funding for repairs, the budget adds $76 million to construct 10 new schools, paired with an important policy change to move Arizona back to two-year projections for new school construction. Changes made during the recession reduced that timetable to one year, putting school districts outgrowing their facilities in a bind and forcing them to rely on temporary structures as new classrooms are built. The restored 2-year outlook will help relieve overcrowding and save school districts money through more cost-efficient design and construction timelines.
One area where we can always do more: improving school safety. We know that school counselors play a vital role, and this year, Arizona is investing in them. The budget provides $20 million for the hiring of additional school counselors or cops on campus – the first dedicated funding for school counselors in state history.
We’ve managed to make all these investments in a fiscally conservative way without raising taxes. In fact, this year, even with these investments, we were able to pass tax relief for Arizona families and greatly simplify our tax code – the most significant tax reform in a generation. Additionally, we’ve brought our Rainy Day Fund to a record-breaking $1 billion, so we are better prepared for the future.
Four years ago, I talked about what’s needed in our educational system to allow every child to have a world-class education – resources and reforms. Arizona has led on both. We have more work to do. But progress is evident all around us. By working together, we can keep up this momentum and keep delivering for Arizona’s students.