Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget for the new fiscal year that includes a ban on school district mask mandates.

 

Gov. Doug Ducey last week signed legislation putting in place an immediate $1.3 billion tax cut, set to rise to $1.9 billion, that is designed largely to benefit the wealthiest.

Ducey inked his approval of the $12.8 billion spending plan just a day before the new fiscal year began Thursday. 

It also came as state lawmakers approved the last elements of the budget package for the new fiscal year after jettisoning provisions to vastly expand the number of children who could get vouchers of public dollars to attend private and parochial schools.

But it still will make it easier for some students to leave public schools and get these vouchers.

There also is a ban on what some have dubbed “critical race theory’’ in schools.

It specifically prohibits teaching students that one race, ethnic group or sex is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another; that any individual by virtue or race, ethnicity or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive; that any individual bears responsibility for actions committed by others of the same race, ethnicity or sex; and that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or psychological distress because of their race, ethnicity or sex.

However, gone is a proposal added in the House by Rep. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley, that would have required schools to have a comparative discussion of communism and totalitarianism that conflict with the founding principles of the United States.

It also would have mandated new civics instruction “to prepare students to be civically responsible and knowledgeable adults.’’

In a prepared statement about his decision to sign the budget, the governor cited what he said are various investments, ranging from $100 million for wildfire prevention and mitigation efforts and $55 million for border security to $13 million for body cameras for state troopers.

The governor made no mention of legislation that allows the Department of Public Safety to deny public access to the footage.

He specifically cited the 2.5 percent flat tax to be phased in over three years, scrapping the tiered system that now has tax rates up to 4.5 percent for earnings by married couples in excess of $318,000. 

And the plan also helps those with earnings of more than $500,000 avoid paying all or part of the 3.5 percent surcharge voters approved in November to help supplement education funding.

An analysis of the plan shows that about 53 percent of the tax relief will go to the 9,645 Arizonans with a taxable income of more than $1 million.

By contrast, only about 1 percent is available for those who have taxable earnings of $50,000 or less.

For those in the $20,000 to $25,000 range, for example, legislative budget staffers figure the average tax cut would be $3, rising to $5 for those in the $25,000 to $30,000 income bracket and $8 for those between $30,000 and $40,000 range.

Those in the $75,000 to $100,000 income bracket would see a cut of $115. It is not until reaching the $200,000 to $500,000 range where the average cut hits four digits.

The last piece of the budget to fall in place Wednesday deals with K-12 education.

Key to that are vouchers, generally worth between $6,000 and $7,000, to allow students to attend private or parochial schools. 

Right now, these are available to those with special needs, foster children, children living on reservations and those attending public schools rated D or F.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Peoria, sought to expand that to any student who is eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, a figure he pegged at about $40,470 a year for a family of four. He also wanted to make vouchers available to any child of a veteran.

That would have opened the door

for vouchers for about 700,000 of the approximately 1.1 million students now in public schools.

But that proved unacceptable to several House Republicans. And with all Democrats opposed, he had to compromise.

The final version does not change who is eligible. But what it does is reduce the time that students have to attend a failing school before being able to switch and get a voucher from 100 day, as it is now, to just 45 days.

And for students in these schools who come from needy families – meaning they qualify for free or reduced-lunch programs – there would be no requirement to even go to the local school first. Those provisions could ease the exit from public schools for eligible students.

The move still drew opposition from Democrat lawmakers who said the state should be investing more in the public schools.

 Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said any money going to these private schools though what are formally known as “empowerment scholarship accounts’’ is money that should be used to improve those failing schools.

But Boyer said Arizona got $5 billion in federal COVID aid for schools this year. And that, Boyer said, is on top of $6.7 billion in state aid.

What’s also in the budget, he said, are other earmarked dollars, ranging from $5 million for career and technical education for 9th graders and $17 million for “targeted K-12 investments’’ to $193 million for school repairs and construction and another $69 million specifically for seven new schools.

“So, my question to you is, when will it ever be enough to allow poor and minority students to leave the schools that are failing them?’’ he asked. 

All that brought an angry response from Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.

“I am sick of the majority coming in and telling us what people of color need and ignoring what people of color are actually telling you,’’ he said. Quezada said the record shows that these kinds of programs only further segregation. ′

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