Published Online: July 2, 2009

Lawmakers Conflicted Over Ariz.'s Education Veto

Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of education spending bills leaves Arizona without a K-12 education budget as some school districts prepare to begin classes later this month.

School officials and Democratic lawmakers were conflicted about the veto, saying they're glad the cuts have disappeared but school districts now face more uncertainty as they try to plan their budgets.

"School is going to start in five or six weeks for most districts; they need to know what their spending authority is," said Rep. Rae Waters, an Ahwatukee Democrat who serves on the Kyrene School District board.

Brewer issued a line-item veto for more than $200 million in education cuts that were included in the general spending bill of the state budget that lawmakers passed overnight. Included in the cuts were provisions that lawmakers said expanded online and reduced some administrative paperwork, among other changes designed to save money.

"There was a lot of good policy in there and that just gets swept away with the stroke of a pen," said Rep. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican who chairs the House Education committee.

In a statement, Brewer said she couldn't sign the budget without a provision to send voters a temporary sales-tax hike that could reduce some education cuts. Lawmakers did not vote on Brewer's sales-tax proposal.

"I have stated throughout my time in office that I am unwilling to agree to a K-12 budget that does not adequately meet the needs of our public education system," Brewer said in a letter to lawmakers explaining her veto.

Schools chief Tom Horne, a Republican, said schools received money Wednesday and can handle budget uncertainty for a short period of time. Horne said he thought Brewer's main goal in vetoing education spending was to pressure the Legislature into supporting her sales tax proposal.

Without an approved spending plan, Arizona school districts don't know how much money they'll have to work with next year. They have sent layoff notices to thousands of teachers who are now waiting to hear if they'll be hired back.

With that uncertainty looming, school districts are planning for contingency budgets that account for large state funding cuts, said Janice Palmer, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association.

Palmer said the veto increases uncertainty but also gives school officials another opportunity to negotiate a better package.

"The folks down there are going to have to grow up, get in a room together, pull their ideologies together and get a budget that works for this state," said John Hartsell, a spokesman for the Arizona Education Association, a teachers' union.

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