Arizona schools chief says GOP budget plan takes state in ‘negative direction’

May 19, 2021, 4:25 AM | Updated: 8:13 pm

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)...

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says a GOP budget deal that was struck between Republican leaders of the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey that includes an income tax cut would be taking the state in a “negative direction.”

“Budgets reflect our values as a state, and this budget proposal that essentially slashes taxes for those at the top at the expense of the middle and working-class families and their children says a lot about how our state views their needs,” Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

“This is really taking us in a negative direction.”

The proposal includes implementing a flat 2.5% income tax that cuts $1.5 billion a year from state revenue and keeps higher-earning taxpayers from having to directly pay a new 3.5% surcharge to fund schools as part of Proposition 208 that was approved by voters in November.

“A flat tax would mean less revenue for our public schools, less money to pay teachers what they deserve,” Hoffman said, adding it would also mean less for extracurricular activities like music and art that are often the first things to get cut when budgets are tight.

“It is astonishing to me that we continue to see these types of initiatives that would give tax cuts to the highest earners when voters have made it very clear with Prop 208 that the majority of Arizonans support taxing the highest earners as a way to fund our public school system.”

The deal envisions using the state general fund to make up the difference so the full 3.5% surcharge would go to the schools, that is if the measure survives a challenge being decided by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Ducey has been a strong opponent of the initiative that was approved by a difference of approximately 113,000 votes and vowed to see it canceled through the courts or the GOP-controlled state Legislature, saying the bill makes the state’s tax code uncompetitive.

The initiative will be used to hire and increase the salaries of teachers – which are some of the lowest in the nation – as well as nurses, counselors, classroom aides and bus drivers.

Increased funding from the bill would also expand career and technical education programs in addition to mentoring and retention programs for new teachers.

Hoffman said the biggest priority for the education budget should be having sustainable state funding that schools can rely on, something she says has been missing.

“They have been having to try to make budgets without actually knowing how much funding they’ll be receiving from the state,” Hoffman said.

“There’s been a lot of instability and unpredictability around student enrollment and distance learning, and what our schools really need is they need sustainable funding they can count on which would give our schools the stability they need to budget, and not just one year at a time but to really project their budgets in a way that is reliable.”

Hoffman added schools are in the process of receiving federal relief and recovery dollars, but that is meant to supplement state funding.

Schools across the state are offering expanded summer programs and more intervention programs to address any deficits in reading and math, according to Hoffman, while also trying to expand mental health support as schools see an increase of needs to address next school year as a result of the disruption caused to students by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We really want to make sure we are doing everything we can to start the next school year strong, which does mean that we need additional resources on top of what is typical for a typical school year,” Hoffman said.

She asks the state Legislature to focus on what schools need and not pass any tax cuts that would take away revenue from the state and essential funding for the public school system.

“It’s appalling that we don’t even fund full-day kindergarten in Arizona and yet we are looking at tax cuts for the wealthiest,” Hoffman said.

Republicans were briefed on the package Monday and House Majority Leader Ben Toma said late Monday night that GOP House members were mulling over the package.

The budget has not been formally introduced.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona schools chief says GOP budget plan takes state in ‘negative direction’