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Ariz. Gov. Ducey OKs $3.5 Billion K-12 Funding Hike, Pending Voter Approval

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation last week that would pump about $3.5 billion in Arizona public schools over the next decade, if voters approve the plan in a special election next year. 

The funding increase was approved in a special session of the state legislature. Ducey signed the legislation into law on Friday. Voters will have the final say-so on the measure in a May 17 election. If the public gives it the thumbs-up, the budget deal would resolve a long-running fight over school spending in Arizona that can be traced back to the 2000 election and, once again, those voters. That year, they approved Proposition 301, which required the state to increase base K-12 funding at least at the rate of inflation and increase the state sales tax to provide more money for schools.

However, the Great Recession led state lawmakers to dramatically slash funding for schools. Several groups sued the state for violating Proposition 301, and in 2013 the state Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs. Lawmakers and others have grappled with the court's decision since then to try to come up with a solution. As my coworker Corey Mitchell wrote last month, those negotiations became a three-way tug-of-war between Ducey, Republicans, and Democrats. 

The package Ducey signed last week includes $2 billion in new revenue from state trust lands, which draws on Ducey's previous proposal regarding funding, and an additional $1.4 billion in money from the general fund. That would come close to doubling the $3.9 billion in state revenue public schools currently receive from the state, a figure that includes $3.4 billion in basic operating aid.

The plan doesn't approach the $4 billion increase Democrats in the legislature sought, but it's also significantly higher than the $500 million increase over the next decade that GOP lawmakers were initially proposing. (Republicans control the state legislature.)

"With this plan you'll have the resources you've been asking for," said Ducey in a message to teachers. Ducey also said he'd campaign for the legislation to win voter approval.

However, the Associated Press reports that the plan the governor signed doesn't really come close to restoring those cuts that were triggered by the economic downturn about eight years ago.

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