Arizona Democrats call for special session to lift school spending cap
PHOENIX — The fate of Arizona public school funding hangs in the hands of the state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey for a second time this year.
K-12 schools are again faced with the possibility of losing more than $1.3 billion in approved funding because of the constitutionally mandated school spending cap from 1980, the Aggregate Expenditure Limit.
Democrats, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, are calling on Republican Gov. Ducey to call a special legislative session to address the AEL.
At a Thursday press conference, Hoffman stated schools around the state are concerned about budget cuts due to the AEL.
“They are already very worried about this issue, and they are worried about whether or not they can spend the money that has been allocated to them by the legislature,” Hoffman said.
Starting on Nov. 1, Arizona schools will begin receiving notices warning of “catastrophic” budget cuts for the 2022-23 school year if the legislature does not act now, state Democrats said.
Arizona House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding said if the legislature can’t come together by the March 1, 2023, deadline, Arizona schools will be forced to cut more than $1.3 billion in the middle of a semester.
To override the spending cap, each chamber must pass it by a two-thirds majority.
“Our schools operate under the thumb of an outdated and arbitrary policy called the Aggregate Expenditure Limit,” Bolding said.
Hoffman added that if the spending limit is not lifted, it will lead to teacher layoffs, larger classroom sizes and poor learning outcomes. This comes after more than half of Arizona’s public and charter school students failed English and Math Assessments.
“In a school year where safety and the mental health resources are more important than ever, positions like school counselors, behavior coaches, nurses and other critical school safety positions are also at risk,” Hoffman said.
In a statement, Ducey’s spokesman C.J. Karamargin said,” We’d consider (calling a special session) if the votes are there.”
Bolding said the governor has the votes after the K-12 education budget passed in June with 48 votes in the House and 21 in the Senate, which is more than the two-thirds required to waive the AEL. Adding a special session was promised by the governor, according to Bolding.
“When we negotiated the budget, we had assurances from the governor’s office and republicans that the Aggregate Expenditure Limit would be waived in a special session this year,” Bolding said.
In March, the Arizona Legislature voted to waive the AEL for the 2021-22 school year.
In a statement from the Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus, Director of Communication Calli Jones said, “All Democratic votes are there. The Republicans need to whip six votes in the Senate and 11 votes in the House. HCR2039 which was the AEL fix passed this last session had 45 yes votes in the House and 23 yes votes in the Senate. Unless Republicans plan to reverse their yes votes – this fix would pass in a special session. ”
Hoffman said they are trying to waive the AEL before the end of the year, as the state will get a new governor in January.