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Updated May 2, 2017 - 10:43 am

Ducey faces pressure, backlash during fight to overhaul K-12 education

(AP Photo and Flickr/US Department of Education Photo)

PHOENIX — As Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey touted his commitment to bettering K-12 education on Monday, a group representing school officials and teachers filed a lawsuit against the state over funding cuts for buildings and other maintenance.

During an interview with KTAR’s Mac and Gaydos, Ducey repeatedly emphasized his goal of hiring more teachers and putting more money into K-12 schooling, while educators took to court to express their disdain with the state’s education system.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday argued that Arizona’s current school funding scheme is unconstitutional and claimed schools have been shorted about $2 billion in maintenance funds.

But Ducey brushed off the lawsuit as another burden state officials have to take on, following last year’s settlement of a lawsuit stemming from the Great Recession and coming on the heels of the state’s latest budget negotiations.

“Trial lawyers want to start another lawsuit instead of solving these problems through budget negotiations,” Ducey said.

Instead, the Arizona governor wanted to focus on a more positive statistic for the state’s education system: Arizona was recently named as home to five of the nation’s top 10 high schools.

But Ducey said the ranking is just another indicator of the work that still needs to be done.

The rankings do “not take away from the other things we need to for K-12 education,” he said Monday. “We know how to educate a kid in Arizona.”

While the potential for excellence in Arizona’s K-12 education is there, Ducey said, the state still lacks the funding and teacher retention rates necessary to make that happen — for now.

Ducey pointed to a plan proposed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas that would give Arizona teachers an average raise of $5,000 through an expansion of Proposition 301, which increases sales tax by sixth-tenths of 1 percent.

While Ducey has been open against raising taxes, he admitted he is “open-minded” to the idea to bringing more money into the education system.

“The most important thing is that the policy is right and we’re bringing something to the ballot that can pass,” he said. “I don’t want to raise taxes, I think you can reform taxes to put more money into K-12 education.”

But during his Monday interview, Ducey emphasized what he thought is the best way to get more money into K-12 education, without raising taxes: His state budget proposal that includes $114 million in new school spending.

The proposal, which was introduced in January, also includes $13.6 million for teacher pay raises, with a five-year goal of raising pay by 2 percent.

Toward the end of his interview, Ducey sounded confident the budget would pass and his two-year battle — and counting — to adequately fund K-12 education would get another boost.

“Our budget is going to pass, it’s just a matter of when,” Ducey said. “I think our budget will be a home run for K-12 education. And we’re going to work [as long as it takes to get it passed], whether it’s all night or every night this week. Or as long as it takes.”

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