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Education advocates greet new Arizona budget with mixed emotions

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX — Teachers and education advocates are reacting with mixed feelings to the state budget Arizona lawmakers approved late Monday night.

Lupita Almanza, who teaches second grade in Mesa Public Schools, said she gives credit to state lawmakers for approving millions of new dollars for public schools.

“However, I think we can do more as a state and make education a real priority,” she said.

Almanza was among the hundreds of teachers who packed the state House and Senate galleries and committee hearings for days as state lawmakers debated the state budget. They stayed at the Capitol until lawmakers approved the $11.8 billion budget.

The budget includes millions of new dollars for education. It also funds the second of three phases for teacher pay raises that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey promised as part of his plan to give teachers 20% raises by 2020.

Emily Anne Gullickson, executive director of the advocacy group A for Arizona, said the “pro-education budget” makes significant investments into education. She pointed to the $136 million schools will be able to use for everything from textbooks and supplies to school buses and technology.

“The dollars are really focused on areas that can best set our students up for success,” she said.

Meanwhile, Almanza said she’s concerned “some lawmakers think it is enough.”

“If we look at what’s happening in our classrooms, we’re still in crisis mode,” she said, adding teachers are still leaving the state because of low pay, and support staff such as school counselors and bus drivers still need raises.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman agrees that state lawmakers need to investment more money into public education in order to make Arizona more competitive with other states.

“We still have among the lowest per-pupil spending,” she said. “We’re still seeing teachers leaving the state or leaving the profession because we have not fully funded our public schools.”

Hoffman added there are several positive takeaways from the budget, including $20 million for more school counselors and school resource officers. But she said it’s “disheartening” to see state lawmakers approved $386 million in tax and fee cuts.

Kelley Fisher, a kindergarten teacher in the Deer Valley Unified School District, said she’s also disappointed by the tax cuts. She said that money should be used for education instead.

“I’m disappointed that my students and our schools were not a top priority,” she said.

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