Brewer adds school, CPS funding in $8.9B budget

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PHOENIX (AP) -- School spending in Arizona would rise by more than $110 million in the coming budget year under a proposal outlined by Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday, but most of the money would go to implementing new school standards and a new performance plan that rewards high-performing schools.

The Republican governor's proposed budget focuses the new money on implementing the so-called Common Core standards by funneling $40 million to pay for teacher training, instructional materials and technology. Another $20 million will go to buy computers schools need for students to take a new assessment test that is replacing the current AIMS test.

Brewer plans to add $36 million into a new fund and shift other education money to pay for $54 million in performance funding. That money will go just to schools that score well on an accountability scale or show improvements. The maximum districts can get is $1,000 extra per student, $500 for each measurement, and they're allowed to decide how to spend the money. When fully implemented in five years, performance funding will make up 5 percent of total K-12 school funding.

But schools that don't make the grade on either measurement could actually see a decrease in funding, because the budget proposal outlined by Budget Director John Arnold takes $18 million from other funding in the first year and $90 million by fiscal 2018.

House minority leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said his concern with the proposal is that low-performing schools in poorer areas may never be able to climb out of the hole and qualify for performance funding under Brewer's proposal.

"Are they going to continue to be stuck in this vicious cycle because they don't have the resources to kind of jump-start the programs they need to jump start?" he asked.

In all, Brewer is proposing to boost state spending in the coming budget year by more than 4 percent, with public safety and Child Protective Services joining with schools to getting the lion's share of the increase.

The $8.9 billion spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1 was released Friday and kicks off annual budget wrangling in the Legislature. The current budget year has spending of $8.5 billion and socked away more than $1.1 billion in a state rainy-day fund and in reserves.

Those reserves will be tapped in the next three budget years because a temporary 1 cent sales tax that brought in about $1 billion a year is expiring and new tax breaks for businesses are about to kick in. Those revenue losses are offset by increased state tax revenue generated by an improving economy, meaning the budget will be about balanced between revenues and spending in three years.

Arizona's budget essentially tracks most others in the nation by remaining in a slow growth phase as it comes out of massive budget crunches triggered by the Great Recession, said Todd Haggerty, policy analyst at National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state budgets.

"Budgets gaps are on the wane for the most part and states have a little bit more flexibility," Haggerty said. "We're seeing modest growth rates, but states aren't restoring funds to programs" as has been normal after other recessions.

The budget proposal includes more than $67 million for Child Protective Services workers, foster care and other CPS spending. CPS has seen a 32 percent increase in abuse reports since 2009 and the number of children in out-of-home care has increased by 40 percent. Brewer wants an emergency $4.4 million appropriation to add 50 new CPS workers immediately and nearly $19 million in her budget proposal for 150 more. She also wants nearly $50 million for foster care and other CPS spending.

Brewer had signaled that she intended to add money for school resource officers, but her proposal adds only enough money to pay half the costs of 100 new school resource officers and looks to districts for the rest of the cash.

Armed officers on school campuses have become a priority for many since 20 students and 6 adults were killed at an elementary school in Connecticut in December.

The state now pays for 100 officers split among more than 2,000 schools using $7.8 million from a voter-approved 2000 sales tax increase. The plan Brewer released Friday for the budget year beginning July 1 adds $3.6 million that must be matched by districts.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the $3.6 million is enough with district matches to cover all the officers districts have requested. But those primarily came in before the Connecticut shooting.

"Resources remain scarce at a state level," Benson said. "Between the state money and the local match we will essentially double the amount of funding we have for the SRO program. That is a significant addition."

Campbell said he was disappointed in the amount of school officer money in the budget, but hoped it could "start a conversation" that leads to more money.

Minority Democrats want $17 million more for school officer funding.

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