The following offers education-related highlights of the recent legislative sessions. The enrollment figures are based on estimated fall 2001 data reported by the National Center for Education Statistics for prekindergarten through 12th grade in public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending include money for state education administration, but not federal, flow-through dollars, unless otherwise noted.
Facility Funding Slashed;
Angry Critics Cry Foul
It was a rough year for the Grand Canyon State, with lawmakers starting the legislative session facing a $1 billion 2003 budget shortfall.
But after all the cutting and scraping was done, state policymakers point out that, with the exception of school construction funding, most K-12 spending emerged relatively unscathed.
Arizona's fiscal 2003 budget for schools totals $3.09 billion, a 9.6 percent decrease from the $3.42 billion allocated in 2002, the first year of the biennial budget.
To help balance the budget, legislators "deferred" $191 million in 2003 state aid payments for school districts to the following year.
They also cut a $250 million appropriation for new school construction and $94 million for building upgrades.
In place of the allocation for construction, the legislature created a lease-purchase program that will allow the state to enter into lease-to-own agreements and spread the cost of new schools over a 20-year period.
If recent developments are any indication, those moves may prompt a showdown between Arizona's judicial and legislative branches over school facility spending.
In May, a state superior court judge ruled the legislature's use of the building fund to help close a 2002 spending gap was unconstitutional. The legislature responded by moving even more money out of the account for fiscal 2003.
Timothy M. Hogan, the director of the Phoenix- based Center for Law and the Public Interest, which filed the lawsuit that led to the creation of the school building program, said he may pursue contempt-of- court charges against the legislature and seek a court-ordered cutoff of all state education aid as a way to get lawmakers to reverse their actions.
In spite of the overall reduction in K-12 spending, lawmakers added $160 million in new money to pay for increased student enrollment and to fulfill a constitutionally mandated 2 percent annual spending increase for general education spending.
While spending issues took up much of the legislature's time this year, the members also managed to enact some new education policies.
The bill of greatest significance, in the state education department's view, turned state schools Superintendent Jaime Molera's accountability program—Arizona Learns—into law.
The program, which goes into effect in the 2003-04 school year, outlines performance measures for schools, such as test scores and dropout and graduation rates, and lays out penalties for schools that fall short of the new accountability standards.
For example, schools labeled "deficient" must implement state-approved improvement plans.
For schools that still fail to improve, the state board of education can designate an outside public or nonprofit manager to run them.
Another measure championed by the education department will align Arizona's existing reading standards and instruction practices with President Bush's Reading First program, part of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.
The new state law lays out K-3 reading-assessment requirements and accountability measures for schools whose pupils don't meet the standards.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Vol. 21, Issue 40, Page 22