Arizona schools chief Hoffman urges Legislature to act on spending limit measure
PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is worried politics and a noncommittal Legislature could jeopardize over $1.1 billion in school funding due to a 40-year-old spending limit.
A 1980 measure passed by state voters put a cap on how much K-12 schools can spend during an academic year. Arizona is set to exceed that limit this year, which would not allow schools to spend the money unless legislative action is taken.
If the Arizona Legislature doesn’t find a solution by the March 1 deadline, districts would have to slash their budgets by about 16%. Those cuts, Hoffman said, would be debilitating.
“It would impact every single school district in Arizona,” Hoffman told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad on Wednesday.
“There’s no way that our schools can operate with having to take this type of cut and it would ultimately result in school closures and or staffing cuts and in a way that’s truly not operational for our school districts.”
The spending limit issue has arose in the past, but has typically been adjusted with a quick fix, according to Hoffman.
She doesn’t think a fast solution is as guaranteed as in previous years.
Hoffman said “political maneuvering” in an election year could provide unnecessary interference.
The lengthy process required to pass the 2021 fiscal year budget also doesn’t inspire confidence from Hoffman.
“I’m worried this year because of how divisive politics have become,” Hoffman, a Democrat, said.
“Even in the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot more will I saw from our lawmakers to work together to get things done on behalf of our public education system, but this is an election year.”
A solution is already in the works.
Democratic State Rep. Jennifer Pawlik introduced a bill that would permanently repeal the measure.
The bill would require a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to pass.
“We need to take the stress off the table,” Hoffman said. “Our schools are already dealing with enough. We need to just get this done and make it a top priority for the beginning of the legislative session.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t heard a commitment to get it done like that from both sides.”