/ Modified may 4, 2012 5:15 p.m.

AZ Week: Education Funding Debated

GOP legislators say $177M added; others say it's not enough

Arizona's state budget for 2012-13 includes $4.8 billion for education at all levels -- K-12, community colleges, universities -- including $177 million added as a result of legislative negotiations with Gov. Jan Brewer.

Republicans say they are on the road to educational funding recovery with that allocation, but Democrats and education advocates say it's not enough.

Asked in an Arizona Week interview at the state Capitol if Arizona is adequately funding education, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said:

"I would say no. We had to do some fairly significant cuts over the last few years."

Still, Kavanagh said, schools had other resources -- federal money, for example -- and the state cuts amounted to "single digits." At the same time, he said, the state has been in a dire fiscal situation from which it is now taking intermediate steps.

Democrat David Schapira, minority leader of the Arizona Senate, agreed that education funding is inadequate, and he said the Republican-controlled Legislature has cut too much and not done enough to restore the cuts.

" ... we haven't (adequately funded education) in a long time," Schapira said in an Arizona Week interview. "And we push back here at the state Capitol to get our Republican colleagues on the page of understanding that you get what you pay for."

Ann-Eve Pedersen, president of the Arizona Education Parents Network, agreed, saying that is the reason her organization is leading a drive for a ballot initiative to dedicate funding to education.

The initiative, called the Quality Education and Jobs Act, would renew the 1-cent sales tax scheduled to expire at the end of June 2013, make it permanent and dedicate 80 percent of its proceeds for education funding, Pedersen said.

She said the petition drive is past the halfway mark, with 90,000 signatures. The group must provide 172,809 valid voter signatures by July 5 to qualify the proposal for the November ballot.

Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber and a member of the House Education Committee, said he worries that such an initiative will "tie the Legislature's hands" when it comes to its constitutional authority to appropriate state tax revenues.

Pedersen responded that if the Legislature had acted on its constitutional mandate to provide a public educational system that is uniform statewide, there would not be a need for such efforts.

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