K-12 schools in Arizona are currently flush with cash. Between billions in increased state spending from the legislature, COVID cash from the feds, and declining student populations, district school spending is at an all time high. But next week, voters across Arizona will decide the fate of 23 bond requests from schools that total a historic $3.5 billion.
This level of borrowing being sought by local school districts is both unwise and unnecessary, especially given the large amounts of money that have been pumped into the system. State funding has increased so quickly in the last 36 months that the legislature decided to override the constitutional spending limit the last two fiscal years. This is funding over and above the formulaic cap in the constitution that exists to protect taxpayers from runaway and unaccountable spending.
And contrary to what you probably hear from teachers’ unions and their sycophant friends in the media, lawmakers continue to increase school spending with every state budget. With all this new spending, district schools receive more money per student than ever before, and it’s not even close.
Not included in the state spending cap, however, are federal funds. And when schools were shut down during COVID, the federal government poured trillions of dollars into them. Many of the school districts asking their taxpayers to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds next week are still sitting on a pile of unspent COVID cash.
Compounding the unnecessary nature of these bond requests is that many of these districts are losing students. In other words, they want to borrow more money to spend on fewer students. That translates into absurdly high requests when broken down per student.
In fact, according to the Arizona Tax Research Association, the lowest request is in Yuma and represents $2,200 per student. On the other extreme, however, is the Osborn School District bond which represents nearly $40,000 per student!
Some of the biggest asks include the $500 million Mesa Public Schools is seeking, $475 million in Phoenix, and $100 million in Gilbert. These requests are almost the size of their entire budgets which last year totaled $815,511,989 (a 20% increase from the year prior), $401,013,567, and $382,732,528 respectively.
No doubt these bonds will have major budget and tax implications in the near future. Yet the campaigns in support of these bonds are telling voters that taking on hundreds of millions in new debt (with sky-high interest rates) will keep their tax bills the same. That of course is not true. All voters need to do is read the first few pages in their publicity pamphlet to see that households will be paying hundreds of dollars (and in some cases thousands) more in property taxes each year.
All this while we have teachers that chant “Hail Satan” in classrooms, schools that fail to protect students from using bathrooms with other students of the opposite sex, and districts that infringe on their own school board members’ freedom of religion and speech. And those are examples from just the last month!
The good news is that voters no longer simply rubber stamp these requests on the off year, all mail elections. Just a few years ago, voters barely approved Mesa’s $300 million bond and rejected the budget override. Last year, nearly half of the requests were rejected by voters. Taxpayers are right to be suspicious of these asks and should follow their instincts when filling out their ballots.
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