Thursday, October 29, 2015

Updates on Arizona's Kicking Kids initiative

AZ does not have such an initiative ... yet. But it will if the legislature passes the education settlement - and if the voters approve the raid on the state land trust.

Ducey calls special session on K-12 funding

Jeremy Duda at The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports on the special session. (Pothole alerts are from your Scriber.)

Gov. Doug Ducey called the Legislature into special session Wednesday evening to approve a settlement that will bring an end to five years of litigation over K-12 school funding by putting an additional $3.5 billion into Arizona’s education budget over the next 10 years.

The deal arranged by the Governor’s Office, Republican legislative leaders and the K-12 groups that sued the state would use increased distribution’s from the state’s land trust fund, along with extra money from the general fund, to make up for annual inflation payments the state has withheld for years. A trial court ruled last year that the state owed schools an additional $336 million for the inflation payments, but the state is appealing the ruling.

[Pothole alert] In exchange for the additional funds, the schools agreed to impose economic "triggers" that would temporarily halt the automatic inflation payments in years in which sales and employment growth drop below 1 percent.

[Pothole alert] Lawmakers would have the option of withholding the payments in years in which those two benchmarks dropped below 2 percent. Starting in 2026, the Legislature could make some cuts to the schools if K-12 education constitutes at least 49 percent of the state’s general fund spending.

[Pothole alert] The bulk of the funds would come from the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund. The plan would increase the fund’s 2.5 percent annual distribution rate to 6.9 percent for 10 years, which would provide an additional $2.2 billion. K-12 schools would also receive an additional $50 million per year for five years and $75 million a year for five years after that, with the money coming from the general fund.

[Pothole alert] Both the land trust changes and the economic triggers will require voter approval. Ducey and lawmakers plan to put the question before voters in a May special election.

Votes for education deal in doubt

The details, including "potentially monumental loopholes" - potholes flagged above - leave many doubtful about the K-12 settlement. Here are snippets from the Daily Star story this morning.

School officials and other groups that advocate for children are making pleas to lawmakers to accept a funding deal that some question.

The push comes as legislators returned to the Capitol late Wednesday in special session to start debating the plan to finally end a lawsuit over their failure to meet legal obligations to properly fund schools. It provides an additional $3.5 billion over the next decade.

But it is the details — and some potentially monumental loopholes — that have raised questions. And that could leave the package short of the votes needed for final approval on Friday.

Opinion: School deal is a bad deal

From a Guest Opinion by Ben Scheel at The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required).

The current proposal to get more money to schools is quite simply, terrible. A manufactured crisis to make sure there is plenty of room for tax cuts this upcoming session.

It’s understandable that the plaintiffs were ready to settle and move on, this lawsuit has been dragged out long enough. But if this sneaky heist is carried out, leadership will be discussing which taxes they’re going to cut with revenue growth in the upcoming session. Essentially advocating for depletion of the trust to give corporations and the wealthy a break, again. After all, money to schools and lower taxes sound good on the 2016 campaign trail.

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