PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey gave a preview of his latest plan to improve education in Arizona on Tuesday and discussed the improvements that Arizona school systems have made over the last three years.
Ducey noted that $1.7 billion over the last three years has been committed to improving schools and continued his theme from 2017 that spending on education is a necessity.
“I’ve said we can always do more for our kids and teachers,” Ducey said. “These people are spending dollars appropriately and there are more dollars on the way.”
The dollars Ducey plans to distribute through his new plan, pending legislative approval, include nearly $1.18 billion over the next five years.
Funding would increase each of the next five years including an additional $100 million in 2019, $168 million in 2020, $236 million in 2021, $303 million in 2022, and $371 million in 2023.
The additional money is intended to, “fully restore cuts from the recession to the Additional Assistance Formula,” Ducey said.
Spending of the money would be flexible but mostly focused on building schools, maintaining current schools and raising teacher salaries.
On the subject of teacher salaries, Ducey noted that since 2015 teacher salaries are up 9 percent.
Ducey’s plan also laid out $51.8 million in building renewal grants and additional bonding in the amount of $88 million for five schools and new school buses.
The state is being sued by a group of schools, education groups and citizens for cuts that forced schools to use operations cash for capital costs like computer software, textbooks and other so-called “soft capital” needs. The suit, filed in April, alleges the state illegally cut capital funding and could owe as much as $2 billion.
Ducey says he wants lawsuit settled, but that’s not likely, according to one of the plaintiffs.
“I don’t think what the governor’s doing even addresses the lawsuit,’ said Joe Thomas, president of the state teachers’ union, the Arizona Education Association. “The lawsuit’s around the unconstitutional nature of how we fund schools, not the level we’re funding them at.”
An Avondale woman who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit said she would drop out if the governor’s plan is enacted.
“I understand that what the governor’s proposing doesn’t fully address all of those things,” Jill Barragan said. “I see that he opened a huge door here for us, and we need to take that opportunity to walk in.”
Some school advocacy groups were “cautiously optimistic” about the proposal, as was a Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Randy Friese of Tucson. He said he could be supportive if the cash didn’t “compromise” other priorities.
Other education advocates, however, were not pleased. A coalition of groups called AZ Schools Now last week called for $1.1 billion a year in new school funding to bring the state’s K-12 schools back to where they were before the recession.
Ducey was asked at the news conference how he could tout $100 million in restored funding as a win for schools that advocates say need $1.1 billion to get back to pre-recession levels. He pointed to the Great Recession, which forced major cuts across state government.
“I think somehow in these questions there’s some discussion as if there were never a budget shortfall, as if the state never ran out of money,” he said. “You’ve heard that these are more dollars being brought forward than folks have seen in a decade.”
KTAR News’ Kathy Cline and The Associated Press contributed to this report.