We are certainly appreciative that the revised 2004 budget presented by the legislative leadership has restored basic state aid and funding for educational programs that directly impact learning.
However, when the revised budget still carves over $100 million from the current level of K-12 funding, we have to ask: "Who's for kids and who's just kidding?"
The largest gaffe is failing to fund $41 million for administrative costs, which will affect 63 percent of school districts in the state. While the funding category is labeled "administrative," it really is a direct cut to the maintenance and operation budget. If full funding is not restored, we could be looking at larger class sizes, fewer instructional positions and the loss of student services.
Failure to fund the Early Childhood Block Grant is equally unconscionable. This discretionary $19 million grant program provides funding to about 254 school districts and charter schools. The money is used for at-risk preschool programs, full-day kindergarten, and K-3 instructional programs.
Smaller and rural districts will be particularly impacted by the elimination of the Rapid Decline Funding. This $4.8 million fund allows schools to phase down fixed and variable costs when they experience a sudden loss in their student population.
These proposed cuts are extreme responses to a difficult situation, particularly when sound fiscal alternatives would enable Arizona to maintain its current level of public services until the economy recovers.
This budget can be balanced without cutting public services or heavy borrowing. The difference between what the governor recommends and what the legislative leadership proposes is about $350 million. We know that Governor Janet Napolitano's forecast of 3.7 percent revenue growth -- which would generate $120 million more than the legislative leadership projects -- is on target. The removal of the special exemption on Medicaid will generate $50 million in federal funds. The consolidation of government agencies, weeding out inefficiencies, revenue growth, and fund transfers will narrow the state's revenue gap.
As Arizona and the federal government mandate higher standards and greater accountability, it can't be done with a budget that forces layoffs, instructional cuts, and reduced student services.
A strong educational system is essential to the state's economic recovery.
Currently, Arizona is 49th in per-pupil funding and has the largest class sizes in the country. A $100-million drop in the current level of spending will decimate public education and any chance of building a better future for our citizens.
Penny Kotterman, President, Arizona Education Association
Cindy Matus Morriss, President, Arizona School Boards Association
John Pedicone, President, Arizona School Administrators, Inc.