Hobbs pushes for school funding plan, GOP stands by its own proposal

Arizona Democrats and Republicans agree that Proposition 123, which expanded school funding, needs to be extended, but they differ on how. Gov. Katie Hobbs wants to expand the funding even more and give schools greater leeway on how to spend it, while the GOP plan would continue funding at current levels but dedicate it solely to teacher pay raises. (File photo by Kelly Richmond/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Gov. Katie Hobbs and Arizona Democrats formally introduced legislation Monday to expand funding for public education and teacher pay, even as Republicans insist they will continue to push their own plan.

Both measures would extend Proposition 123, the voter-approved measure that increased the amount of money taken from the state land trust for education. That measure will expire in 2025 if not renewed.

But the GOP plan would extend Proposition 123 at its current rate and dedicate the money to giving teachers across the state a $4,000 boost in pay. Hobbs’ measure would expand the trust funding from the 6.9% draw approved by voters in 2016 to 8.9%, and divide the money between general school funding, pay for teachers and support staff, and school safety.

The Democrats’ bill would also require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to decrease the funding in the event of economic downturn, instead of the current majority vote.

“As the sister of two public school teachers, I’m proud to put this proposal forward and I’m calling on the Legislature to join me in ensuring a brighter future for our students, our teachers and our state,” Hobbs said at a news conference Monday.

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Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Queen Creek, said in an emailed statement Monday that he appreciates the governor’s plan, but that it is not likely to sway the Republican majority in the Legislature.

“I appreciate that the Governor is embracing our idea to use a proposition to provide teachers with pay raises,” Petersen said.

“When Republicans passed 20 percent teacher pay raises in 2018, the Democrats voted no. And while we appreciate her input on the matter as a referral to the ballot, the issue is solely at the discretion of the legislature, subject to voter approval,” his statement said.

The Republican plan, unveiled in November, would keep the money flowing from state trust lands, but come with the stipulation that it go only toward teacher pay. In order to compensate for current programs that would lose funding as a result, the GOP plan would direct an additional $300 million to schools from the general fund.

Both measures come as the state grapples with a nearly $900 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. and as lawmakers work to cut back spending to ensure vital programs continue to receive funding.

At Monday’s news conference, Hobbs said her office has been discussing the issue with Republican leadership and negotiations are at a “good starting point” with the agreement that Proposition 123 should be extended.

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, who will sponsor Hobbs’ plan in the Senate, said the governor’s proposal will do more for public education than the Republicans’ plan.

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“While I applaud my Republican colleagues for finally admitting that we need to do something to raise teacher pay, their plan misses the mark,” Marsh said at Monday’s event. “With this plan, we will not only address our teacher shortage caused by low pay, we will support every educational professional responsible for our children’s success and keep our schools safe.”

In a statement released Jan. 16, State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, a Republican, called Hobbs’ proposal “dangerous and unsustainable.” She said her office recommends that 4-5% of proceeds from state trust land be used to fund education — an amount even lower than the plan proposed by Republican lawmakers.

Proposition 123 funding comes from the State Land Trust Permanent Fund, which consists of proceeds from the sale of state trust lands. The fund, worth about $8 billion, also benefits the state’s public universities, prisons, the Arizona State Hospital, the School for the Deaf and Blind and other public entities.

If a measure gets out of the Legislature, it would still need to go voters for final approval. Both the Democratic and Republican plans include language to put the question on this fall’s ballot.

Reagan Priest Ray-gan Priest (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Reagan Priest expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Priest has also worked at The Copper Courier, The State Press, Cronkite News D.C., The Arizona Republic and Arizona PBS.