Sydnee Scofield

Friday, Feb. 26, 2016

Proposed bill could cut desegregation funding from Arizona schools

New bills moving through the Arizona House and Senate will cut more than $200 million from 19 Arizona school districts.

SB-1125 and HB-2401 are identical bills that would phase out desegregation and Office for Civil Rights funding that has been in place for more than 30 years.

According to the Arizona Tax Research Association, districts like Phoenix Union High School District and Phoenix Elementary District could see a 17 percent decrease in overall property taxes over the 10-year phase-out period.

The schools initially began receiving this funding in the 1970s and 1980s after complaints alleging segregation and racial inequality were filed against Arizona school districts.

“The legislature back then allowed those school districts that had received complaints to go out to their local taxpayers and charge them an extra tax,” said Sen. Debbie Lesko (R-21), the Senate bill’s sponsor. “It never went to a vote of the public.”

Lesko said segregation in Arizona schools is not still an issue, but Dr. Chad Gestson, Superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District does not agree.

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With many students that aren’t native English speakers, districts like PUHSD say they have to provide an equal — and typically more expensive — education to those students.

“To say that there’s no longer racial issues and equity issues and that was just 20 years ago, is absolutely false,” said Gestson. “There will always be issues of equity in excellence.”

Lesko said she is also adamant that this won’t have a big impact on local school districts.

“I just don’t buy the notion that we’re going to devastate any schools,” said Lesko, but PUHSD disagrees there, too.

“If this bill is passed, that’s $55 million that will phased out of Phoenix Union,” Gestson said. “It collapses our system.”

Without the approval of taxpayers, Lesko says this funding is unfair and needs to be eliminated.

“Why should another district that’s neighboring to them, get extra money?” Lesko said. “It’s not competitive, it’s not fair.”

Dr. Gestson doesn’t think taking away the funding solves a fairness problem between districts.

“A lot of people think that if we eliminate desegregation (funding) it goes back into the system and redistributed,” Gestson said. “If you get rid of desegregation (funding), it goes away. It leaves education.”

These bills passed in their committees but are now up for a vote in the full House and full Senate.