Arizona state legislature approves new aggregate expenditure limit for K-12 schools

The hotly-debated measure passed the Senate on Monday


Gage Skidmore

At the Arizona State Capitol on Monday, the Senate took a vote to allow schools access to nearly $1.2 billion in funding.

A budget crisis has loomed large over Arizona’s schools in 2022, but a vote held in the Arizona Senate on Monday brought a sigh of relief for K-12 institutions.

Schools around the state will now avoid closures that would have started as soon as next month, as the Senate raised the spending cap for public schools in a 23-6 vote. This cap, also known as the “aggregate expenditure limit” in the Arizona Constitution, is set at $1.15 billion.

K-12 schools now have access to this money after a stalemate in the state legislature nearly rendered it unusable. The AEL exemption passed the state House of Representatives last Tuesday, but initially came up one Republican vote short after it was brought to the Senate.

“We did it. We lifted the spending cap and will avoid $1.2 billion in school cuts,” Democratic Senator Lela Alston tweeted Monday afternoon.

Deliberations were intense, and included Scottsdale Republican Michelle Ugenti-Rita decrying “educational terrorists” while explaining her decision to vote “no.” The effects would have been devastating had the measure not been approved prior to the March 1 deadline. The Tucson Unified School District would have lost $58 billion in funding, while Mesa Unified would have been shorted $74 million. Multiple other school districts faced millions in cuts.

Save Our Schools Arizona, a nonpartisan organization comprising teachers, parents, and Valley business leaders, issued a statement after the news broke and pushed lawmakers to continue fighting to improve the quality of education in Arizona.

“This legislation will allow districts to avoid unnecessary furloughs, school closures, and other crises. This simple vote is long overdue, and should never have been politicized,” the statement read.

“As we celebrate national #PublicSchoolsWeek, we urge lawmakers to work in a bipartisan fashion to solve Arizona’s classroom crisis, instead of working to divert more desperately needed funds to unaccountable private school vouchers. Arizona schools require massive investments to increase school counselors, special education services, fully-funded kindergarten, and so much more. Our legislature must ensure consistent, continuous funding for the public schools that the majority of Arizona families choose and depend on.”