Arizona schools chief Tom Horne ‘strongly’ supports raising education spending cap

Jan 20, 2023, 4:45 AM | Updated: 5:57 am

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne called on lawmakers to address a spending cap for schools so they don’t have to make massive cuts to budgets in a few weeks.

In an exclusive interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM, Horne said he “strongly” supports lifting the Aggregate Expenditure Limit that’s preventing school districts from spending money already allocated to them.

“My goal is to increase learning and increase test scores – they’re really low right now – and I have a lot of proposals to do that,” he said. “But it would throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing if we had massive layoffs of teachers when we already have a teacher shortage.”

School districts have warned of teacher layoffs and school shut-downs if lawmakers don’t take action.

Horne also said he supports repealing the AEL while other Republicans – including GOP legislative leaders – are opposed to that. He emphasized legislators “are the ones that set budgets – that’s their job.”

“That’s their responsibility, and they should decide how much we’re going to spend,” Horne said. “It doesn’t make sense for them to pass a budget saying we’re going to spend x dollars and then something else changes it.”

The AEL was approved by voters in 1980. It limits how much money Arizona K-12 school districts can spend every year.

However, state lawmakers can vote to lift it. Last year, they narrowly missed the March 1st deadline that’s set in the Arizona Constitution to lift the spending cap.

School districts are facing $1.38 billion in budget cuts in a few weeks if the AEL is not lifted again, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he doesn’t agree with Horne on repealing the AEL and denied claims that Republicans are using it as a bargaining chip.

Instead, Shope told KTAR News 92.3 FM that he supports passing legislation to raise the spending limit so schools can access the “significant investments” already approved for them.

“We’ll go ahead and do that in the coming weeks – no doubt about it,” he said.

Shope added he knows school districts feel a sense of urgency to lift the AEL, noting he served on the Coolidge Unified School District Governing Board for 12 years.

“So I understand what that means,” he said. “However, the legislative process is not designed to move fast. It’s designed to be transparent.”

“There will be a bill. It’ll be heard in committees,” Shope added. “It’ll be vetted, and then it will be voted on by the chambers…It’ll get done, but it has to get done on the timeline that we work on.”

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, already introduced a resolution to raise the AEL. It still needs to go through the committee process before lawmakers can vote on it.

Gov. Katie Hobbs in her state of the state address on Jan. 9 stressed the urgency of passing Cook’s resolution, which will require a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate.

“Superintendents and education leaders are warning this will cause furloughs, layoffs, and possibly even school closures,” Hobbs said.

“It is unnecessary to allow these hysterics to go on any longer. Let’s give our students, our teachers, and our parents the assurance that schools will remain open.”

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Arizona schools chief Tom Horne ‘strongly’ supports raising education spending cap