Ward defends her legislative record on education funding

Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward after an April 24, 2019, press conference at which she expressed her support for an increase in the state sales tax to provide more funds to education. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

As Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward touted a plan by Sen. Sylvia Allen and Rep. Michelle Udall to raise the sales tax rate to provide more funding for K-12 schools, she glossed over votes in her own legislative record that cut education funding.

In 2015, Ward’s final year in the Legislature, Arizona faced a budget deficit. And K-12 education bore some of the brunt as newly elected Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-led Legislature sought to make up the shortfall.

While state law mandates annual funding increases for inflation, as well as a fixed amount of per-pupil funding for a continually increasing statewide student body, not all parts of Arizona’s K-12 budget have such protections. And the budget that lawmakers, including Ward, voted for in 2015 increased K-12 funding by the minimum required by law, while at the same time cutting $117 million in district additional assistance, which goes to school districts and charter schools for things like books and equipment.

That budget, which was for fiscal year 2016, also cut $30 million from Joint Technical Education Districts, which provide career and technical education to students. Lawmakers restored the funding a year later.

Ward said during a press conference on Wednesday that she doesn’t believe she ever voted for a budget that cut education funding. The fiscal year 2016 budget did not cut K-12 funding overall, though the education community decried the cuts to district additional assistance.

Ward also said she got to the legislature in 2013, “when we were rebuilding after the devastation under Gov. (Janet) Napolitano as she gutted our state and gutted education, gutted every aspect of our economy here in the state.”

That is not an accurate description of the situation.

Napolitano, a Democrat, massively boosted education funding through 2008, a result of increased state revenue from a booming economy. But after the global economy crashed, that spending became wildly unsustainable, and as a result, Arizona faced one of the worst revenue shortfalls in the country.

Napolitano resigned as governor to join the Obama administration in 2009, leaving new Gov. Jan Brewer and the Republican legislature to sort through the wreckage of the budget. Their solutions included substantial cuts to K-12 education.

By the time Ward was elected to the Senate in 2012, Arizona’s economy was in recovery and state revenue was on the upswing. That trend continued until late 2014, when an unexpected downtown brought a new budget crisis.

After the press conference, Ward’s only response to questions about the 2015 votes to cut district additional assistance and JTED funding was to say, “I’ve always been supportive of education and always will be. It’s the great equalizer.”

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”


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