In 2023, a 1980 Arizona law, the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, still prevents Arizona’s public schools from spending their approved budgets.
What is the Aggregate Expenditure Limit?
Arizona’s aggregate expenditure limit (AEL) is a law that limits the amount of money that the state can spend on public education each year. The AEL was put in place in 1980 as a way to control state spending and keep taxes low.
The AEL is determined by a formula that considers factors such as enrollment, inflation, and student population growth. Each year, the state’s projected revenues are compared to the AEL, and if the revenues exceed the limit, the state must return the excess money to taxpayers in the form of a rebate.
The AEL has been a controversial issue in Arizona’s education system for many years. Supporters argue that the AEL helps to keep taxes low and control state spending, while opponents argue that it limits the state’s ability to invest in education and improve the quality of education for students.
What triggered the AEL this year?
Several factors have come into play for the 2022 – 2023 school year. The Arizona legislature increased the education budget by about $1B in their May 2022 budget. This almost immediately put the education budget over the AEL – Governor Doug Ducey had promised to call a special session to override the AEL, but that never happened.
Additionally, when Prop. 301 (a classroom site fund approved by voters) expired, and Arizona’s legislature renewed it with one key difference – the renewal failed to exempt the classroom site fund from the AEL cap. That Classroom Site Fund averages between $600M-$800M a year.
Education was a very different landscape in the 1980s – we weren’t investing in technology, school safety wasn’t as much of a concern, and the cost of living/housing was significantly less. In addition, public education systems have significantly expanded curricula and course offerings to keep up with the needs of our communities. These things cost money and the AEL limits new investments in many of these areas.
What happens if the AEL isn’t corrected this year?
If the Aggregate Expenditure Limit isn’t overridden by a 2/3rds margin in the state legislature, there will be serious consequences. Arizona public school districts need to cut $1.3B (an average of 17% of their yearly budgets) from their already approved budgets. They will need to make this cut in the 4th quarter of the school year, which could result in program cuts, layoffs, or in extreme cases, even school closures. These cuts could have a crippling effect on students, staff, and the local economies.
So what’s next?
There are bills that have been introduced in the state legislature to override the AEL for 2023. Call and email your representatives – tell them to override the AEL!