On the Governor's Budget

Governor Ducey released his much-anticipated budget on Friday as a follow-up to last week's State of the State address. Here are the things you need to know about it.

Positive Surprises

There were a few unexpected items in the budget that will be very helpful for K-12 education.

(In a hurry? Skip to the bottom line.)

  1. The budget proposes funding an effort to:

    "Inventory school building systems’ age and performance characteristics into a statewide database...to prioritize and schedule repairs and replacements of facilities in order to avoid costly building system failures. Additionally, the system will...[enable] SFB to leverage economies of scale to achieve bulk pricing on many capital items."

    This is smart government at its best. As someone who has helped manage school facilities in the past, I can tell you this kind of proactive planning will likely lead to major cost savings in the future.

  2. The budget includes permanent, rather than one-time, funding for the Arizona Department of Education's IT/data system that is used to calculate and distribute school funding. This has been an item of contention for years, going back to the tenure of Superintendent John Huppenthal and continuing with last year's resignation of the Department of Education's Chief Information Officer. So it is definitely positive to see stable funding for this item moving forward.

  3. The budget clarifies that Results-Based Funding for top-performing schools will be "distributed using the FY2018 formula, which is based on AzMERIT test results," rather than the new A-F school letter grades. The original plan had been for Results-Based Funding to be distributed to all "A" rated schools this year, but due to the controversy over the new system, it appears the Governor is giving the State Board of Education a year of reprieve to come up with a better rubric. This is positive, as something so important shouldn't be rushed.

What are the details?

As a refresher, in his State of the State speech, Governor Ducey outlined the following priorities for education:

  1. All-day kindergarten
  2. Career and technical education
  3. Computer coding
  4. Reducing waitlists
  5. Closing the achievement gap
  6. Rural high-speed broadband
  7. New school buses

The Governor has followed through on proposing increased funding for each of these items in the budget. All-day kindergarten, however, a hot topic for some heavyweights in education policy, only gets a modest increase to the small program started last year for schools with a 90 percent or higher free or reduced-price lunch population.

My responses to the other priorities last week were as follows:

  1. "Regarding career and technical education (CTE), I hope the governor is referring to restoration of funding for 9th grade CTE classes."

    The budget does not propose funding this piece of CTE. Instead, it addresses a funding inequity where the largest CTE schools were not receiving the full dollar amount they were due according to the state aid formula. This will be a great help to the schools affected: East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), West-MEC, and Pima County JTED (all of which I have visited--check out West-MEC's aviation maintenance and repair program!). I look forward to seeing a restoration of 9th grade CTE funding in the future.

  2. "Regarding new school buses, I am optimistic that Governor Ducey is referencing capital funding more broadly."

    The budget does indeed address all capital funding. The Governor unveiled a five-year plan to gradually repeal all of the Recession-era cuts to District and Charter Additional Assistance, the funding source that covers capital funding items like buses, textbooks, and technology. It begins with a $100 million infusion in FY2019, growing to $371 million in FY2023. This is a big deal, as restoring capital funding has been the most frequent request I have heard from school leaders.

    Because of this increased funding, the school-finance-savvy Arizona Association of School Business Officials (AASBO) has withdrawn from the ongoing facilities funding lawsuit against the state. However, for now the lawsuit appears likely to continue with the remaining plaintiffs, as the budget only looks forward and does not address the cumulative shortfall of funds that had been due to schools annually but not received in full since FY2008. And one district superintendent indicated to me that their district could not wait until 2023 for full restoration and would likely need to go for one more bond election to cover costs in the meantime.

  3. "I hope to see additional funding for increased teacher salaries, since the teacher shortage in Arizona is at crisis levels."

    The Governor did not specifically mention this in the State of the State, so at that point any new funding in the budget specifically for teacher salaries was unlikely. The only references to teacher salaries in the budget are: 1) in the capital funding mentioned above, which is described as "flexible" and open for diversion to teacher salaries if schools so choose; and 2) in completing the one-time, 2 percent teacher salary increase agreed to in last year's budget, which this budget makes permanent.

    This is still a critical issue. While increasing pay alone won't be enough to solve Arizona's teacher shortage, it's hard to recruit teachers when average elementary school salaries are 11 percent lower than they were in 2001, after adjusting for inflation. I stand ready to help the education community, business leaders and the legislature address this any way I can.

What's the bottom line?

Governor Ducey's budget makes much-needed investments in public education, including a five-year funding plan for restoring capital funding, one of the most critical and longstanding concerns for schools. As Superintendent, I would work with Governor Ducey's administration to continue this model and produce five-year budgets on how to increase teacher salaries significantly and pay for all-day kindergarten. That is easier said than done since those two items will cost a minimum of $580 million per year, but the people of Arizona have made it clear that they believe their Governor is more than capable of that heavy lift.


Picture credits: Flickr/Clover Autrey, Flickr/Pictures of Money