A measure to help teachers pay for classroom supplies cleared a critical hurdle last week as state lawmakers resurrected it from political death.
But its future still remains uncertain.
On a 34-20 margin, the House approved HB 2377, which allocates $8.7 million this coming school year that teachers can use for everything from pencils and paper to sheet music. That translates to about $150 per teacher.
The same measure also provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for teachers against what they owe in state income taxes for their out-of-pocket expenses, up to another $150 a year.
The vote came exactly two weeks after the identical measure went down to defeat with just 23 lawmakers in favor. That left it to Republican Rep. Todd Clodfelter and Democrat Rep. Kirsten Engel, both from Tucson, to lobby colleagues to change their minds.
While the measure has bipartisan support, it also has bipartisan opposition. Clodfelter told Capitol Media Services he may have to make alterations to ensure the measure survives in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it now goes.
But Engel, who originally had proposed a much larger appropriation, said she will oppose further dilution of the legislation.
Central to the issue is the broad consensus that many teachers are using their own money to buy supplies that are not provided by their schools. Where there is a difference of opinion is how best to deal with that problem.
The measure has been opposed by some of the more fiscally conservative Republicans. That is not necessarily a surprise, given the potential $17 million annual price tag for both the outright appropriation and the tax credit in a year when some want to use whatever extra dollars are available for tax breaks.
But the bipartisan legislation also drew flak from some Democrats who said the measure draws attention away from dealing with what they say is the real solution: adequately funding schools and increasing teacher salaries.
“This bill cannot substitute for the state fulfilling their obligation, in my opinion, or their responsibility to provide public resources for school supplies for every child in every classroom,’’ said Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley.
Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, was even harsher in her criticism, saying that this legislation amounts to “throwing pennies’’ at the problem of inadequate funding.
“I consider it an insult to offer this to teachers and think that it’s going to make a significant difference in the budgeting,’’ she said. “It does not.’’
Peten also pointed out that state and local spending comes down to about $7,500 a student.
“We spend three times that amount to incarcerate an inmate,’’ she said.
Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, saw the issue from a different perspective.
“This does not fix the teacher shortage,’’ she said, saying some teachers have referred to this as “more crumbs.’’
Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said foes of the bill are half-right.
“This is not a fix,’’ he said. “And we know that.’’