By Jason Barry
PHOENIX (KPHO) — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman got right to the point during her “state of education” address Tuesday in front of the Senate Education Committee.
Hoffman said that school districts across the state would face widespread layoffs and school closures if state lawmakers didn’t do something fast to address a looming budget crisis.
“The money was already budgeted, already approved in last legislative session,” said Hoffman. “This is money already in the bank for our districts; they simply need permission to spend it. It’s extraordinary that they are not sticking with the budget that was set last year, especially considering it would mean a $1.1 billion cut to education in Arizona. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Last year, the Arizona legislature approved a multi-billion dollar budget that included increased funding for education, despite the extra money for public schools exceeding spending limits outlined in the state constitution.
Lawmakers have voted to lift the spending cap in the past, with a 2/3 majority. But that hasn’t happened yet, with a March 1st deadline looming.
State Senator TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) said all this panic over a school crisis is unnecessary, insisting that lawmakers have every intention of lifting the spending cap.
“It would be crazy to think the legislature that has voted, myself included, to give raises and add additional billions of dollars to education, would not vote to increase the cap that has already been approved by the same legislature,” said Shope. “What we are hearing today is pure politics.”
So far, two bills that would lift the spending limit have yet to be assigned to a committee or placed on an agenda.
Hoffman said it’s unnecessary to put school officials through the stress of wondering whether they will have to make drastic budget cuts a few weeks from now. “I’m hopeful this will be taken care of,” said Hoffman.
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