State Representative Announces Hearing to Discuss Arizona Public School Spending Limitation

Newly Elected State Representative Matt Gress (R-Maricopa), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Budgetary Funding Formulas, announced a hearing for Thursday to review the public school spending cap created by the aggregate expenditure limit (AEL).

“The purpose of this committee hearing is to ensure the record investments we’ve made in K-12 education over the last eight years are effectively and responsibly spent so that we can properly invest in our state’s future leaders,” said Gress.

At the hearing, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne (R), Arizona Tax Research Association President Kevin McCarthy, and members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee are all set to give testimony regarding this issue. Aside from the AEL, the hearing will also cover the community college spending cap and other financial transparency measures previously enacted by the state legislature.

The meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in House Hearing Room 4. The public is welcome to join, and anyone unable to attend can watch the hearing here.

Arizona voters passed the AEL as a Constitutional Amendment in 1980, which limits how much all the public school districts can spend during a school year. The cap is changed each year based on the state’s student population and changes in inflation. Charter schools are not included in the AEL.

If schools exceed the limit, every district must reduce its budget to comply with the AEL. For example, if the cap is exceeded by five percent, each district must reduce its spending by five percent.

The state is currently in this situation and is 17 percent over the cap. A budget cut of this size would equivocate to roughly $1.3 billion that schools would not be able to use.

Gress stated that the surplus is due to massive investments the state legislature and former Gov. Doug Ducey made in Arizona’s public schools in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. However, state lawmakers can prevent the budget cuts if they approve an action to extend the cap before March 1st. The State House and State Senate must approve this action by a two-thirds majority.

While Ducey had agreed to call a special session to override the cap, the meeting never happened, leaving it in the hands of Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) and the Republican-led legislature to address the AEL.

However, lifting the limit is one of the issues Hobbs and the legislature appear to agree on. Hobbs named addressing the AEL as one of her top priorities in the State of the State address, and State Representative Leo Biaaiucci (R-Lake Havasu) stated the legislature favors lifting the cap. State Representative David Cook (R-Maricopa County) already introduced a resolution allowing schools to spend the $1.3 billion surplus. Although, the resolution still needs to go through the committee process before legislators can vote on it.

“We must prioritize ALL Arizona students — they all deserve access to a quality education,” said Gress. “I look forward to hearing from Arizona public officials and leading experts on our complex formula system and am committed to finding solutions that keep our schools open, strengthen Arizona education, and put parents in the driver’s seat of their child’s education.”

As reported by KTAR, Horne is also openly in favor of expanding the limit. He warned that if schools have to endure a budget cut, teacher layoffs may be an unfortunate side effect. The state already faces a teacher shortage, and Honre said more layoffs would “throw a monkey wrench” in his plans to increase learning and test scores in the state.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Matthew Gress” by Matthew Gress. Background Photo “Arizona State House of Representatives Chamber” by Visitor7. CC BY-SA 3.0.




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