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Legislators: State budget proposal slices education funds, again

PHOENIX – A proposed state budget would cut $21 million from Arizona education that is already reeling financially, a Democratic legislator said Wednesday.

Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said his biggest issue with the Senate budget plan is the proposed education cuts for fiscal year 2017, created with the assumption that Proposition 123 to fund education will be approved in May.

Meyer, speaking at a legislative briefing, said the cuts in the proposed $9.58 billion budget means schools that have dealt with lean financial circumstances for years will continue to suffer.

“School boards across the state are going to have to balance their budget by making cuts again this year,” Meyer said. The proposed budget would cause a $21 million cut to Arizona’s education, Meyer said in the briefing.

Meyer said the Democratic caucus set aside $116 million more to K-12 funding than the budget proposed by the Republican-led Senate.

In an interview, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said he agrees that the budget proposal needs to give more money to education.

“If we can hold K-12 harmless, I’m on the budget,” said Boyer, who did not attend the briefing. The current budget proposal, he added, does not do that.

Supporters of the budget plan said it brings more money to schools.

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“This budget adds $142 million in K-12 funding,” said Daniel Ruiz, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey.

Meyer also objected to $5 million being budgeted for “freedom schools” that advance free-enterprise ideas at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University.

“It’s hypocritical to have a public university and, in that university, you have an entity that we’re spending our tax dollars on that advocates for getting rid of public education,” Meyer said. “It makes absolutely no sense.”

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, favors freedom schools.

“I very much agree with that,” Lawrence said in an interview after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee briefing.

Legislators at the briefing also discussed the Senate budget proposals for prisons and child safety.

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Gabrielle Abbot/Cronkite News

Arizona legislators attend a breifing on the proposed Senate budget plan, held by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.