ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona GOP lawmakers introduce school funding bill with voucher expansion

Jun 15, 2022, 11:00 AM | Updated: 12:22 pm

(Pixabay Photo)...

(Pixabay Photo)

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX (AP) — Republican leaders of the Arizona House introduced legislation Tuesday that will substantially revamp the state’s school funding formula, add about $200 million in new yearly funding for K-12 schools and create a universal private school voucher system.

But the proposal being championed by GOP Majority Leader Ben Toma does not satisfy Republican Rep. Michelle Udall, who has refused to support an expansion of school vouchers without major new accountability rules such as testing.

With only a one-vote majority in each chamber, Republicans needs unanimous support from their caucus if no Democrats sign on.

No Democrats currently support an expansion of the current voucher program, formally called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. They point to the 2018 election where two-thirds of Arizona voters rejected universal school vouchers.

Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona, said a huge issue is a poison pill — a conditional enactment that says schools won’t get the new funding unless the voucher bill passes and goes into effect.

That means a voter referendum, like the one her group got on the 2018 ballot, would imperil new school funding.

“As someone who has exercised their constitutional right to referendum I think that’s pretty disgusting,” Lewis said. “And as a parent who wants that funding for their kids that’s really not OK.”

Udall said the proposal is going to need much more stringent testing and reporting requirements for private school students getting public money or there needs to be a much larger amount of new money for K-12 public schools.

The current proposal has a one-time investment of $200 million to a fund that helps pay for school operations and teacher salaries. The $200 million is ongoing funding that will be split between schools with high rates of low-income students, to increase spending on English language learners and to a fund that boosts money for all traditional and charter schools. That’s on top of new school spending already in a budget deal that is currently stalled.

“At the end of the day I’m not going to be able to vote on the bill unless I feel like it’s doing the most good for as many students as possible,” Udall said.

She said she remains in ongoing negotiations with Toma and others on the proposal.

The proposals are set for a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. The complicated new school funding and voucher expansion bills were introduced late Tuesday.

Breaking the logjam on the school funding and voucher bills are just two of the major issues facing lawmakers in the final weeks of the session.

They need to get a budget in place by June 30 or a shutdown of state services will go into effect. And lawmakers have been stuck for more than two months without a deal in part because one Senate Republican, Paul Boyer, is demanding a huge new investment in K-12 schools before he’ll back a budget deal.

He said Tuesday he’s not been briefed on Toma’s package of bills.

Boyer has been pushing for a “Grand Bargain” that would include much of the $900 million in voter-approved funding that Proposition 208 would have provided if the Arizona Supreme Court had not declared it unconstitutional. He also has been pushing since last year for a major expansion of the voucher program.

But some Senate Republicans have publicly opposed any additional school funding.

Udall said last week she also wants a very large new investment in K-12 schools, “a pretty big chunk,” of the $900 million Boyer wants.

The state is flush with cash, sitting on an unprecedented surplus of more than $5.3 billion. That’s even accounting for $1.7 billion in income tax cuts enacted by the Legislature over unified Democratic opposition last year.

The actual tax cuts had been on hold because opponents collected enough signatures to block them until voters can approve or reject them in November. But the Arizona Supreme Court in April ruled voters can’t block them, although the court has not explained its reasoning, and they are now in effect.

The current budget is $12.8 billion, and Republican house and Senate leaders have a deal to spend $15.1 billion in the next budget year and add to current year spending as well.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Multiple winning five-figure Arizona Lottery tickets have been sold in Arizona this week. (AP Photo...

KTAR.com

Multiple 5-figure-winning lottery tickets, including $50,000 Powerball slip, sold in Arizona

Multiple winning five-figure Arizona Lottery tickets have been sold in Arizona this week, including a $50,000 Powerball slip.

5 hours ago

The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to make an announcement Thursday about the investigation...

KTAR.com

DOJ expected to release findings from investigation into Phoenix Police Department

The DOJ is expected to make an announcement Thursday about the investigation into civil rights allegations against Phoenix PD.

5 hours ago

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JUNE 06: Arizona republican U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake looks on as former U...

Associated Press

Kari Lake loses appeals court challenge for 2022 Arizona gubernatorial race

Republican Kari Lake has lost an Arizona appeals court challenge arguing that thousands of Phoenix-area mail ballot signatures were not properly verified when she lost the 2022 governor election to Democrat Katie Hobbs.

6 hours ago

US 60 was closed in both directions near Wickenburg due to the Rose Fire, according to the Arizona ...

KTAR.com

US 60 closed in both directions near Wickenburg due to Rose Fire

US 60 was closed in both directions near Wickenburg due to the Rose Fire, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

7 hours ago

Jill Biden will be coming to Phoenix on Saturday. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)...

KTAR.com

Jill Biden coming to Phoenix on Saturday for outreach event aimed at older voters

First lady Jill Biden is coming to Phoenix on Saturday for an event that will look to appeal to older voters.

8 hours ago

Over 50 people were displaced after a fire destroyed five mobile homes in west Phoenix on Wednesday...

KTAR.com

Over 50 people displaced after fire destroys 5 mobile homes in Phoenix

Over 50 people were displaced after a fire destroyed five mobile homes in west Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon, according PFD.

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Arizona GOP lawmakers introduce school funding bill with voucher expansion