GOP leaders: Legislation offering schools flexibility would ease burden of funding cuts

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Education Cuts,620
  • Sidebar: Key provisions of bill

Cronkite News Service

PHOENIX – GOP leaders on Thursday unveiled a bill they said would ease the burden of funding cuts for public and charter schools.

The bill, touted as the “Education Relief Act,” would lift limits on how schools can spend money, allow them to shorten the school year by up to 10 days and expand tax-credit options for who donate to schools.

“We have made promises for the last several years to try to remove as much regulation, strangulation and provide the flexibility” said Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, chairwoman of the House Education Committee.

Public and charter schools won’t see significant cuts this year under Gov. Jan Brewer’s new budget released last week, but they will lose some federal grants.

The bill, which will be introduced next week, would give schools the freedom to use tax-credit donations for anything except salaries. They were previously designated only for extracurricular activities.

It would allow districts extra time to repay debt and encourage them to sell more bonds for building updates because the state no longer covers repairs, said Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, the bill’s author and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Schools could also reduce their 180-day school year down to as few as 170 days as a cost-cutting measure, though actual instructional time would have to remain the same.

Many of the the provisions are designed to be temporary fixes until the state budget recovers, and the bill would expire in just under four years if passed.

Karin Smith, chief financial officer for the Kyrene School District, said it isn’t likely that districts could save much money by chopping off a few days, and it could even mean that schools would be open longer during summer sessions.

“It’s not like you take 10 days off and you’ve got 10 full days of complete savings,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “If anything, you could have some cost saving on transportation because there’s a few less days.”

The bill would also limit the amount of money schools can spend on traveling to $200 per student for out-of-state trips and $800 per student for out-of-country trips.

Goodale said the act would allow for schools and districts with different needs to benefit because of its wide offerings.

“It’s not your traditional one size fits all,” she said.

It would allow the State Board of Charter Schools to begin accepting grants, donations and gifts from public and private sources while public schools could for the first time begin putting tax-credit donations toward textbooks, technology and other academic purposes.

In most districts, the $200-per-person or $400-per-married-couple annual tax credits are often paid by parents and other relatives of students looking to fund everything from out-of-town trips to football uniforms to chemistry club dues. If the bill becomes law, taxpayers could donate the same amount but schools could instead designate it for technology and things other than extracurricular activities.

Despite the proposed expansion, Crandall said he wouldn’t expect to see an increase in taxpayer dollars coming into schools. More likely, he said, the amount would decrease because the same pool of contributors might not donate twice.

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, disagreed, saying he would be surprised if there weren’t more tax credits rolling in because the schools can now target different groups.

While parents and community members close to students likely would continue to fund extracurricular activities, outside groups might jump at the chance to fund something beyond a trip to Sea World or a band uniform, he said in an interview.

“People who are retired or who support technology might say this is an opportunity for me … to see academic things accomplished,” Essigs said.

Clyde Dangerfield, assistant superintendent for business services at Gilbert Public Schools, said that while the tax credit changes could open new options for schools, it probably wouldn’t solve any budget problems of schools.

While the community might give more money, he said, those dollars are ones that won’t go into the state’s fund and be re-allocated as per-student funding.

“The state doesn’t have any money. Should we be expanding tax credit?” Dangerfield said. “We’re kind of chasing each others’ tails in this case.”


Key provisions:

– Expand the purpose of the public school tax credit to include technology or any other academic purpose (through 2014).
– Limit to $200 the amount a single student can receive through the public school tax credit for out-of-state activities in one fiscal year.
– Limit to $800 the amount a single student can receive through the public school tax credit for out-of-country activities in one fiscal year.
– Allow school districts the ability to reduce the number of school days in a school year from 180 to any amount between 170 and 180.
– Allow school districts to charge for non-mandated transportation.