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Public School Funding A Give-And-Take

A Senate panel agreed this week to give schools an extra $82 million in inflation funding - and then permanently take away hundreds of millions more in state aid. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer explains.

That increase in basic aid will boost per-pupil funding by about $59 a year. But that took a court ruling that legislators were violating a law which requires annual inflation adjustments. The same measure, though, permanently repeals long-time laws which require the state to provide other cash beyond basic aid, like money for books and computers.

Andrew Morrill of the Arizona Education Association said that means the permanent loss of $239 million a year state statutes say schools should be getting. "You don't get a thank you note from the city of Phoenix when you pay a traffic fine," Morrill said. "They were following a court order. But they're using that to hide this massive, permanent reduction."

Morrill acknowledged lawmakers have not fully funded those formulas since 2009 when the state ran into financial trouble. But he said having the law on teh books held out the promise that the money would return when the economy recovered.

Senator Don Shooter called it a matter of semantics. "We're not really cutting any more than has been cut," he said. "We're staying consistently at that level. And so I just don't want people to think that we're doing anything new to hurt education. We're not doing a whole lot to help, perhaps."

And Senator Kelli Ward said schools are going to have to get used to what she said is the new normal.