The new Arizona Legislature has opened and proposed bills are already going through committees. As always, education is the subject of several and the No. 1 issue for Arizona’s new governor, Katie Hobbs. It was also the subject of the January meeting of the SaddleBrooke Democratic Club (SBDC) on Jan. 10.
Linda Lyon highlighted the more recent history of public education in our state, including deep cuts to public education after the great recession. The per-pupil funding has been getting better but is still $1,412 short of what it was in 2007. Lyon went on to explain how legislative expansion of school vouchers since 2011, known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, continues to take more funding away from public schools. The projected costs of the new law expanding eligibility of these vouchers to all families, estimated by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee to be $33 million for this school year, jumped to $210 million in the first two months after the new law took effect, and may end up more than double that again by the end of this school year.
Lyon, a past president of the Arizona School Boards Association and nationally known blogger for public education, also explained how infrastructure maintenance and improvement funding for public schools across the state is still more than $4.5 billion short of constitutional requirements.
On the brighter side, as the president of the Oracle School District (OSD) Governing Board, Lyon thanked the voters in the District for their local support. The OSD is making huge improvements in both infrastructure and student achievement, due in large part to the override and bond passed in 2019, which are bringing mid-1900s facilities into the 21st century and inspiring global expectations in students, teacher retention, and community involvement.
While the state only funds one-half of kindergarten costs and provides no monies for preschool, the local community has again stepped up. Tax credits, donations, and extraordinary support of the Oracle Schools Foundation have bolstered the District’s early childhood learning and helped raise students’ understanding of what is possible.
The SaddleBrooke Democratic Club meets the second Tuesday of each month at 3:30 p.m. in the SaddleBrooke One Activity Center.