Arizona public schools will avoid big budget cuts next month after the state legislature suspended a constitutional spending limit for a second straight year.

The measure that will allow districts to spend $1.38 billion over the aggregate expenditure limit (AEL) passed the House on Tuesday and Senate on Wednesday with enough bipartisan votes to meet a two-thirds majority requirement. 

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs welcomed lawmakers’ “long-overdue action.”

“It means that superintendents and district leaders can continue employing our valuable teachers, counselors and support staff,” she said in a statement. “Our teachers can focus on giving students every opportunity to achieve success, not shutting down classrooms.” 

School officials began pushing last year for a special legislative session to avoid catastrophic spending cuts even before districts were notified in November about the size of their reductions.

The constitutional AEL, which was passed by voters in 1980, limits expenditure growth based on changes in inflation and student attendance, which had fallen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The legislature boosted K-12 funding in the state’s fiscal 2023 budget by $1 billion to a total of $8.45 billion, with $329 million earmarked to raise the base support level of education spending.

Some Republican senators noted Arizona’s record of big education funding increases and called for greater accountability on the part of schools as they voted against suspending the limit.

“Continuing throwing money without accountability is nonsense,” State Sen. Anthony Kern said.

Republican Senate President Warren Petersen voted yes, noting that Republicans would be blamed for the fallout from school spending cuts come March 1 if the AEL was not lifted. 

“I share the same concerns with everybody that voted no,” he said, adding Republicans will continue to push for changes in public schools.

Republican State Sen. Jake Hoffman said he wants to ensure funding is flowing first to the classroom, where the focus should be on core subjects. He is also advocating for financial transparency on the part of school districts.

Lawmakers voted in February 2022 to suspend the limit for the prior school year.

Hobbs said a permanent fix is needed for the AEL and Save Our Schools Arizona, a public education advocacy group, called on the legislature to put a repeal of the “antiquated limit” on the 2024 ballot.

“Our teachers and school administrators shouldn’t live in fear of losing 20% of their budget every single year, and it’s impossible to fund 21st century classrooms using a 1980 formula,” the group said in a statement posted on Twitter.

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