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Arizona education coalition: Ducey’s proposed budget not enough

(KTAR News/Kathy Cline)
LISTEN: Education proposal not enough

PHOENIX — It’s not enough.

That’s what an Arizona education coalition said about Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed education budget for 2018.

“Arizona families are tired of being told education is a priority – and then hearing proposals, like the one we heard this morning, that amount to scrounging for change in the couch cushions,” said Dawn Penich-Thacker, AZ Save Our Schools spokeswoman.

“Arizona schools need more than $1 billion just to make up for what we lost a decade ago.”

School funding dipped in 2008, at the start of the Great Recession. The state currently ranks last in the nation in per-pupil spending; its teachers are some of the lowest-paid nationwide.

In a Monday press conference, Ducey proposed giving $100 million to schools next year; $168 million in 2019; and over $300 million in 2023.

He also stated the permanent increases would be flexible – that is, school districts could use them for teacher salaries, building improvements, or whatever’s needed. Ducey’s entire proposed budget will be unveiled Friday.

Coalition member Rev. Andy Burnett is the senior minister for a Universalist congregation in Chandler and part of AZ Save Our Schools. He said all faith traditions require caring for the weak and young, and making sure the young get the best care and education they can.

“Friends, we are a long way from meeting our obligation,” he said. “We have a drastically-underfunded education system that has teacher pay so low that teachers are leaving in droves.

“The proposal on the table seems to offer less than $100,” he said. “We can – and we must – do better.”

The group said if Ducey is not budgeting more money next year, voters may see another ballot initiative next year.

“We’ve said from the beginning that we need funding now, and we need that funding to be substantial,” Penich-Thacker said. “The package that the governor proposed today? If that’s all that we get more details on Friday, we have said from the beginning that we will take matters into our own hands.

“That would entail running an initiative.”

Whatever happens, the group is united on one thing: Arizona schools need more money.

Beth Simek is the mother of two sons, president of the Arizona PTA and a member of AZ Save our Schools.

“Gimmicks and Band-Aids are just not going to cut it,” she said. “We need real solutions, and a real, sustainable funding source.”