Republicans Lead Effort To Lift School Spending Cap

Republicans Lead Effort To Lift School Spending Cap

By Daniel Stefanski |

Republicans led a bipartisan effort in the Arizona Legislature to raise the aggregate expenditure limit (AEL) for school districts in Fiscal Year 2023, easily avoiding a March 1 deadline to authorize the excess funds.

The action in the legislature took place this week, with the House passing its authorization on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday. Representative David Cook sponsored the legislation in the House and Senate Education Committee Chairman Ken Bennett led the charge in the Senate. Both the House and Senate cleared the legislation by the required two-thirds majority vote.

According to the release sent out by Arizona Senate Republicans, the legislation “authorizes school districts to spend the approximately $1.4 billion that exceeds the AEL due to last year’s historic investment made in public education. The AEL is a constitutional amendment passed by Arizona voters in 1980 as a way to limit rapid increases in government spending that are out of proportion to population growth and inflation.” The Arizona Senate’s fact sheet stated that “there is no anticipated fiscal impact to the state General Fund associated with this legislation.”

Many Arizona Republicans cheered this bipartisan achievement this week. Senate Education Committee Chairman Ken Bennett said, “Senate Republicans have an uninterrupted history of always allowing our K-12 public schools to spend the money appropriated to them by the Legislature, and this year is no different.”

Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope wrote, “A big reason school districts hit the AEL cap is because Republicans have infused so much money into K-12 education.” Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli stated, “We’ve also increased per pupil spending by more than 40% since 2015.”

House Sponsor David Cook was also appreciative after the Tuesday action by his chamber, tweeting, “The Arizona House of Representatives today approved my legislation to raise the AEL this year, so our schools can fully access the funds that the Legislature already appropriated for them.”

Republican Representative Matt Gress tweeted, “I’m proud to vote with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to keep our schools open. This vote allows for the largest investment in K-12 education history.”

Arizona Democrats were very happy about the AEL’s authorization this week. Senate Democrats tweeted a picture of a group of members smiling in the Senate chamber because “we passed the AEL!” Senate Education Committee Ranking Member Christine Marsh said, “This is a strong show of bipartisanship and one I hope can continue as we identify a more permanent solution for our public schools.”

The path to arrive at passage of the AEL wasn’t without its challenges. Last year, some Democrats claimed that then-Governor Doug Ducey had promised to call a special session of the Arizona Legislature to authorize the AEL once the budget was signed into law. Governor Ducey’s office denied that this stipulation had been part of the bipartisan negotiations. There were also weeks of speculation that perhaps a special session would be called at the end of Ducey’s term, but nothing materialized.

Members of the Arizona Freedom Caucus also made their voices known about their preferences for systematic reforms being instituted “to benefit students, families, and teachers.” According to a press release from Senator Jake Hoffman, and shared by the @AZFreedomCaucus Twitter account, the reforms include “classroom 1st funding,” “back to the basics instruction,” “empowering parents through academic transparency,” “parent trust & empowerment,” “transparency in district finances,” and “protecting children from political ideologies.”

Senate President Warren Petersen seemed to echo some of these concerns in his statement for the State Senate Republican Caucus release touting the legislative victory: “In the coming weeks, we will be working with the Joint Legislative Audit Committee Chairman to investigate how these (education spending) dollars are being spent. With extra funding comes a greater responsibility from our K-12 public school districts to provide a better education for all students.” Senate Majority Whip Sine Kerr also added a statement of caution and future investigation, saying, “We have some of the best schools in the country found in Arizona, but at the same time, we have some of the worst underperforming schools, and we need to figure out why.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Gubernatorial Candidate, Private Schooler Hobbs Vows to Undo Universal School Choice

Gubernatorial Candidate, Private Schooler Hobbs Vows to Undo Universal School Choice

By Corinne Murdock |

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, a product of private schools, revealed on Monday that she plans to reverse Arizona’s universal school choice if elected.

Hobbs appropriated pro-school choice phrasing to describe her 13-page anti-school choice plan. She omitted her private school attendance from the plan.

“Zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of public education our Arizona students receive,” wrote Hobbs. “As governor, I will always fight for students, teachers, and parents to have the resources they need to succeed.”

In 1988, Hobbs graduated from Seton Catholic Preparatory High School, a private high school in Chandler. As one of the most expensive private schools in the state, SCP tuition sits around $17,700 currently, with a discounted rate for proven Catholic families of $13,300. 

In her education plan, Hobbs called the funds from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program “vouchers.” However, the ESA Program funds are not “vouchers” — they are education scholarship accounts. Vouchers may only be used at private schools, whereas education scholarship account funds may be used for a greater variety of educational needs, such as tutoring. 

“Vouchers should not have been expanded to provide an unaccountable means of enriching private schools and defunding our local public schools,” reads the plan. 


In a 2019 interview celebrating her alma mater’s 65th anniversary, Hobbs told Gilbert Sun News that attending a small private school gave her the positive experience of a more intimate, tailored learning experience, such as her teachers encouraging her to discover timeless truths in classic literature.

“It really felt like a family,” said Hobbs. “You really had a chance to get to know the people that you went to school with.”

AZ Free News asked Hobbs’ campaign whether Hobbs’ children have attended any private schools. They didn’t respond by press time.

Both of Hobbs’ children attended Arizona School for the Arts, a charter school.

Hobbs’ plan also seeks to eliminate the aggregate expenditure limit (AEL). The AEL limits K-12 public schools’ expenditures every year based on the calculation of the aggregate expenditure of all districts, adjusted for student counts and inflation. The state legislature increased the AEL this past session so that schools could spend their budgets in full. 

The rest of Hobbs’ education plan pledges to establish free preschool and kindergarten, especially for low-income and minority families; reduce child care costs and increase options; increase teacher pay by up to $14,000 to match the national average; reduce teacher health care costs; increase fundings for school renovations; restore the special education cost study; increase funding for special needs care; and nearly-free, if not totally free, college education for students that live in state — whether they’re American residents or illegal immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) rule.

Further, Hobbs’ pledged to increase funding to the Arizona Teachers Academy to grow enrollment; increase school funds to hire more mental health professionals and social workers; establish permanent funding for Northern Arizona University’s Teacher Residency Program; increase funding to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) to establish new STEM grants and scholarships, particularly for women and “people of color”; expand Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment programs to all schools; establish a refundable tax credit for career and technical education pursuits; fund start-up medical program costs; and establish health care training programs.

Additionally, Hobbs promised to increase oversight of charter schools through increased funding to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools and the Auditor General. She also pledged to require charter schools to participate in the Auditor General’s annual classroom spending report, prohibit charter schools from making a profit from the sales of land and buildings, and publicize charter corporate boards through their inclusion in open meeting and public records laws. 

Absent from Hobbs’ plan was any mention of additional funding for homeschooling families. Hobbs didn’t respond to our questions about that by press time, either. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to