PUHSD still feels impact of education funding cuts

PUHSD is still feeling the effect of state cuts to K-12 education funding made during the Great Recession. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Phoenix Union High School District may be suffering from a lack of funding despite state increases to the K-12 education budget during the past few years and a recently passed override.

During the Great Recession, the state cut millions from education which, combined with lower property values during that time, greatly decreased school funding. While property values have recovered and the economy has since improved, Arizona is one of several states still spending less on K-12 education now than before the recession.

According to a 2016 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, Arizona state spending per pupil is down 23 percent since before the recession began.

“There’s been some things that we’ve got back but overall all those cuts have remained since the Great Recession,” said Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators.

School funding experts say these cuts are particularly harmful to low-income students who often live in areas that have difficulties passing bonds and overrides to provide extra funds and who need more specialized programs and teaching.

PUHSD has a large low-income population with just over 81 percent of students qualifying for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

Unlike some other districts that serve many low-income students, PUHSD has been able to supplement its budget with an override passed in 2013. The district is trying to get this override renewed this year.

“Some districts have suffered more than others and one of the main reasons is some districts are able to augment (their funding) because the voters will pass bond and overrides,” Joraanstad said.

Bond and overrides are voter-approved tax increases. They are also the main tool school districts have available to them to compensate for a lack of funding.

The extra funds a school district receives from these ballot measures can cover building improvements, teacher salaries, special programs, supplies, technology and more depending on the nature of the bond or override. They also only last for a specific amount of time so school districts must pass new ones or try to get them renewed every few years.

Despite the extra override money, Bioscience High School English teacher Meagan Farney-Schamp said she still feels the effects of a lack of funding.

“It’s challenging, but teachers can be a little bit crafty and sort of isolate students from feeling it at the classroom level,” Farney-Schamp said. “The biggest difficulty I run into is different resources like finding markers and pencils and pens and glue and those kinds of things for my students.”

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Farney-Schamp said she often relies on private donations to cover the cost of supplies for her students. She also said she also reuses trifold poster board to try to make supplies last and takes the extra time to design her own instruction to avoid using textbooks.

“A lot of times my students can’t provide supplies for themselves so I rely heavily on donors and some funding to get just everyday supplies for my classroom,” Farney-Schamp said.

The challenges low-income students face do not end in the classroom. Many also have trouble receiving regular meals at home and cannot cover the cost of extra school activities.

Farney-Schamp said Phoenix Union has a free breakfast and lunch program to provide meals to these students and that private donors also step in to help cover the cost dance tickets, cap and gowns and similar items for some students.

“It’s not because low-income students don’t have all the potential and have the ability to be successful,” said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “They just need some additional help to be successful in the learning environment.”

Contact the reporter at Stephanie.M.Morse@asu.edu.