Budget Signed

$9.2 billion plan defers action on CPS, offers small school boost

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Gov. Jan Brewer last week signed a $9.2 billion state budget that grew out of a split-the-difference compromise between House and Senate Republicans.

The general fund budget in­cludes about $41 million in new spending, but puts off action on Gov. Brewer’s top priority — overhauling the scandal plagued Child Protective Services.

The final budget provides an inflation adjustment for K-12 school, which now spends less per student than any other state. However, the budget provides little new money from K-12 schools, beyond $8 million to help districts test students under the new academic standards. The compromise budget also restores about $24.5 million for district schools that convert to charter schools — which the Legislature originally wanted to cut.

The charter school provision should allow the Payson Unified School District to keep operating Payson Center for Success, a district charter school that provides an alternative high school. Charters get about $1,000 more per student than regular public schools and don’t have to abide by many of the state regulations.

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Governor Jan Brewer

The budget Brewer signed last week included an extra $4.5 million for Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University to equalize per-student funding with the University of Arizona. However, in the past several years state per-student funding for the universities has dwindled from about $8,000 to about $4,300. The budget includes little new money for community colleges, which have seen a drastic drop in state support. Ironically enough, as a provisional community college, Gila Community College has always received a fraction of the state support other rural districts receive. As a result, GCC has suffered less from the deep state cuts in community college funding that have driven districts in towns like Flagstaff to drastically cut programs.

Gov. Brewer said, “job No. 1 every session is to pass a responsible budget for the state of Arizona and that’s what I signed

into law. This budget keeps us on the path to restoring the state to a structurally balanced budget by 2016 and protects the rainy day fund while addressing critical priorities like child protection, public safety and education.”

The state has largely resumed growth with rising state, sales tax dependent revenues, which plunged by a third during the recession — spurring some of the deepest cuts in spending in the nation. The just-adopted budget ends the years of deep cuts, but makes up little of the ground lost in the past three years.

The budget included about $35 million in business tax cuts, which adds to the roughly $500 million in tax cuts passed in the depths of the recession, along with the deepest education cuts in the nation.

Democratic candidate for governor Fred Duvall, a former chairman of the Arizona Board of

Regents, sharply criticized the budget. “Gov. Brewer and the Arizona Legislature are neglecting our kids. For years they’ve been cutting K-12 and higher education to the bone, asking Child Protective Services to investigate more cases with fewer caseworkers and eliminating funding for crucial preventative services that would keep kids out of the system in the first place. Last year when we found out that more than 6,000 reports of alleged child abuse and neglect were ignored, they told us that — this time — things would be different. We should have known better.”

Last year CPS whistle blowers revealed that in the face of rising caseloads and reports of abuse and neglect, the agency had classified 6,500 cases as “not investigated.”

Gov. Brewer expressed shock, although CPS had reported the rising number of uninvestigated cases in several annual reports. She vowed to reform the agency and split it off from the Depart­ment of Economic Services as a separate, cabinet-level agency. An investigative team has since looked into the 6,500 “not investigated” cases, which resulted in a relative handful of cases in which children were removed from abusive or neglectful homes.

However, since the uninvestigated cases made headlines, the number of backlogged cases not yet investigated has increased to more than 12,000 and the number of children in out-of-home care due to abuse and neglect has grown to 15,000. The agency has caseloads more than 70 percent above the national standard.

The Legislature provided about $59 million in additional funding for the agency. The governor’s office said that in the past year the administration has provided nearly $100 million in new child welfare funding, enough to provide 438 new positions.

However, the compromise House-Senate budget Brewer signed last week still falls about $30 million short of the governor’s original request. The budget did include a promise to revisit the issue after Gov. Brewer finalizes her plans for the reorganized agency with more of a law enforcement emphasis. That will likely involve a special session of the Legislature in the coming months.

The budget passed on a straight party-line vote as Republican leaders in the Legislature rejected every single amendment proposed by the minority Democrats. Those amendments included a big increase in money for child care subsidies for the working poor, another $100 million for K-12 schools and more money for the universities.

The adopted budget didn’t include any money to deal with the impact of a potentially expensive court ruling that held the Legislature acted illegally when during the recession it refused to fund an inflation adjustment for K-12 schools. The voters approved the inflation adjustment years ago, hoping to shift the state closer to the national average when it comes to school funding. A state court ruling held that lawmakers had withheld as much as $1 billion in funding. So far the Legislature has refused to consider replacing that money, but did include an inflation adjustment this year and in the fiscal 2014-15 budget.

The Legislature did reject strong efforts to pull the state out of the national academic standards known as Common Core.

Gov. Brewer has embraced those standards, which came with substantial federal funding. The adopted budget includes about half of what Brewer wanted to help school districts set up a comprehensive testing system to go with the new standards.

State Budget Compromise:

Common Core: Survived efforts to pull out of the national standards. Compromise budget included $8 million for more testing — $6 million less than Gov. Brewer wanted.

Child Protective Services: Legislative budget didn’t provide the new money Gov. Brewer wanted — but included a promise to consider increases when the governor finalizes reform plans in the wake of last year’s scandal involving 6,500 reports classes as “not investigated.” In the meantime, the backlog of not yet investigated cases has grown to more than 12,000 and the number of children in foster care has grown to more than 15,000.

Diabetics: Legislature agreed to pay for insulin pumps for diabetics covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. The expensive devices can provide much better control of blood sugar.

Child Care: Legislative budget didn’t provide money for child care subsidies for low-income, working parents as requested by the governor and were prominent in the alternative budget put out by legislative Democrats. Briefly, Democrats looked relevant when they backed proposals made by moderate Republicans, hoping to agree on a moderate bipartisan budget like last year when the issue was expansion of AHCCCS. But the moderate Republicans returned to the Republican fold in return for several minor concessions.

Universities. The three universities teamed up with a budget request that would have made up some of the ground lost due to deep cuts during the recession, with the backing of the governor. The legislative budget provided almost no new funding.

Private Prisons: A controversial, last-minute effort to slip $900,000 into the budget for private prisons died quickly once word got out. The state contracts with private prisons, which actually charge more per prisoner than the state-run prisons, although they don’t accept the most dangerous inmates.

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