New report shows Arizona school funding still lagging

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (AP) -

State funding for Arizona's kindergarten to grade 12 public school system remains nearly 14 percent below what it was before the Great Recession hit in 2007, according to an analysis of school funding in 48 states released Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The study by the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research institute showed that even with an infusion of money since Gov. Doug Ducey took office in 2016, the state's per-pupil spending is well below its 2008 funding levels when adjusted for inflation. It also said per-pupil formula spending dropped last year by 1.2 percent.

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Ducey has touted his efforts to boost K-12 spending.

"Arizona has put more money into K-12 education over the last three years than any other state in the country, without raising taxes," he told KTAR radio earlier this month. "It has been the focus of every budget that we've had."

But much of that increase came from settling a lawsuit bought by schools that alleged the state illegally cut spending during the recession. The settlement added some state spending but most of the new cash came from increasing withdrawals from the state land trust dedicated to schools.

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The study found that Arizona school funding hasn't recovered from the cuts despite the new spending and could be getting worse, said Mike Leachman, the center's state fiscal research director.

"It's clear that Arizona school funding is down significantly and the data we have suggest further worsening at least in terms of formula funding, which is the major source for general support for all school districts in the state," he said.

The study used U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2008 through 2015 to review all states except Hawaii and Indiana. It also reviewed state budget documents from 2016-18 for Arizona and 11 other states that had the biggest cuts though the current budget year.

The analysis showed Arizona cut more than any other state through 2015, chopping 36.6 percent of its spending on schools. Local districts made up some of the difference. But even including extra local funding, the census data shows a 24.6 percent reduction for Arizona school funding.

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The Republican governor has made school funding his top priority since taking office in January 2015, but he also refused to halt phased-in corporate tax cuts than eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars from the state revenue stream. He has vowed that the state budget he will propose in January will add more K-12 school funding.

The center said seven of the 12 states with the biggest cuts in school funding also cut corporate or personal income taxes, a move it said hurts school budgets.

Overall, the funding cuts hurt the economy because of lower employment in schools, low teacher pay, higher class sizes and a lack of funding to implement school reforms, the center said.

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