School Funding

Arizona lawmaker prepared if school voucher law ends up on ballot

David Livingston made the comments during a public forum in Avondale on Tuesday.

ARIZONA, United States — A veteran Republican state lawmaker confirms the fears of some educators after saying lawmakers are prepared to retaliate against public schools if a petition is successful regarding school vouchers.

State Sen. David Livingston of Peoria (R) said there ‘would be a war’ if an activist group, Save Our Schools, collected enough signatures for a ballot measure allowing voters to decide the future of universal school vouchers, according to four people who were with Livingston on Tuesday.

RELATED: Arizona School Voucher Law Passes Despite No Accountability Measures

Livingston made the comments during a public Q&A forum in Avondale hosted by Westmarc, an alliance of West Valley towns. Attending the forum were business owners, school superintendents and mayors.

According to attendees who spoke to 12News, Livingston was asked about an impending spending cap facing school districts called the Aggregate Spending Limit (AEL).

Even though the Legislature approved historic new funding for schools in June, Republicans did not vote to lift the spending cap that would have allowed school districts to spend all the money. The legislature should hold a special session this year or address the issue in next year’s regular session to lift the cap.

Charter schools are exempt from the spending cap.

Livingston said if Save Our Schools collected enough signatures by September to return a separate voucher law to the 2024 ballot, “there would be a war” between Republican lawmakers and public school advocates.

Livingston suggested that Republicans in the legislature are prepared to keep the cap in place and even cut school budgets further, participants said.

“It kind of shocked me in real time,” said Arizona State Rep. Lorenzo Sierra of Avondale (D), who was in attendance. “When we passed the budget, I asked several superintendents to join me. They were over the moon. We were going to do things that we hadn’t done in years and for someone, who I think is a very thoughtful legislator, to say that this is going to be a ‘war’ in education is not helpful and not get us where we need to be.

A representative from Livingston’s legislative office told 12News on Friday that Livingston was unavailable for comment. 12News asked Senate Republican leaders for comment but did not receive a response Friday night. Livingston is running for re-election in Legislative District 28 of the Northwest Valley.

A Save Our Schools executive said his remarks were unfortunate given that more than 80% of parents choose public schools for their children.

“We have real table issues that families in Arizona are facing. The last thing the public needs right now is Republican lawmakers talking about going to war with public schools,” said Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association.

RELATED: Arizona’s $18 Billion Budget Boosts Education Funding

The historic budget passed by Republicans and Democrats allocates more than $800 million to the public schools annual base. Ironically, Livingston voted for the budget.

House Majority Leader Ben Toma initially tried to tie increases in school funding to a universal expansion of vouchers. After it became clear that this was not possible, lawmakers decoupled the proposals into separate bills.

Livingston’s comments come during a week when school leaders told 12News they were facing unprecedented teaching vacancies and scrambling to hire ahead of the start of the new school year. District leaders say their hands are tied by the spending cap because it’s fiscally unwise to plan pay raises if the money isn’t guaranteed.

Gov. Doug Ducey could call a special legislative session and ask lawmakers to lift the spending cap now, providing reassurance to school finance officials and avoiding the kind of drama Livingston alludes to. A spokesperson for Ducey reiterated to 12News on Wednesday that Ducey would not comment on the possibility of a special session or say whether he supports lifting the cap, even though it is a necessary step so that the budget he signed becomes a reality.

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