Brewer budget includes $109.9M more for schools
PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer is proposing an $8.9 billion spending plan for next year, a 4.8 percent increase over what lawmakers approved for this year.
The increase comes despite the fact that anticipated revenues will fall short of all the demands plus various programs the governor wants to increase. But it can be sustained because the state expects to have $725 million left over at the end of this year.
That spending level also is possible despite the fact the state remains $2.6 billion in debt. Other than scheduled payments, Brewer proposes to add an only extra $40 million a year to reduce that figure.
But there's a potential catch to the whole plan.
Brewer's budget does not include the extra $82 million the state Court of Appeals earlier this week said the state had to provide schools in voter-mandated inflation adjustments. And John Arnold, the governor's budget director, said if that decision stands the money would have to come from somewhere else.
“Dollars are scarce,'' he said. “We certainly can't fund everything. If ultimately we are required to put new dollars into the system that are just inflation dollars, that would be disruptive to the rest of the budget proposal.''
Even without that funding, the biggest single proposed increase is in education, with Brewer proposing to add $109.9 million for both K-12 and higher education.
Of that, $40 million is in one-time funding to help prepare teachers for the new “common core standards'' that were adopted in 2010 but are supposed to be fully implemented in 2014. That includes not only training the teachers to the new standards but also instructional materials as well as new technology for the classroom.
Those dollars will be awarded on a per-pupil basis. Arnold said that gives each district the ability to decide what it needs.
“They're all in a little different place,'' he said.
But that does not end the needs. Arnold pointed out that the new standards require new tests which students are supposed to take online.
He said the standard is supposed to be having one computer for every five students; Arizona's current standard has one for every eight. Her budget includes $20 million.
“Quite frankly, we don't know if $20 million is going to cover it,'' Arnold said. But he said some districts probably already are at the 1:5 standards. And others will be able to get by with less expensive tablets rather than full-blown computers.
Brewer also proposes to add another $3.6 million to help schools hire “resource officers,'' police officers specially trained to work in schools. That, however, will still leave most schools out.
Lawmakers and the governor eliminated all general fund spending for the resource officers years ago. That left only $7.8 million allocated as part of the 2000 voter-approved measure hiking the state sales tax by 6/10ths of a cent, money they could not touch.
Brewer proposes to add back $3.6 million in state funds, conditional on schools wanting the officers providing a dollar-for-dollar match. All totaled, Arnold said that should provide enough funds for about 200 officers.
He conceded that is just a percentage of the more than 2,000 schools in the state. But Arnold said that still would cover every school that has previously sought state dollars.
The budget also includes $15.3 million in new tax dollars for university operations.