Ducey: Use more land trust funds for education

Doug Ducey

Doug Ducey

PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will ask voters next year to allow more money to be taken out of the state's multi-billion dollar trust land account to boost funding for K-12 schools, his spokesman said Thursday.

The proposal would funnel about $1.8 billion in new cash into the state's schools over five years, and smaller amounts in the following five years, spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.

The state's permanent land trust account now stands at about $5.1 billion, but the balance would still grow slightly even with the increased withdrawals. Schools would get between $320 million and $375 million in extra state funding in each of the first five years if the Legislature refers the plan to the ballot and voters approve the proposal in 2016.

Schools would get about a $300 boost to the $3,400 per student they now get.

"This is new money. There's no gimmicks, there's no smoke and mirrors," Scarpinato said. "This is new dollars that K-12 is not currently getting that it will if voters approve this. There's no strings attached. This is money that goes straight into the base formula that will increase the per pupil by about 9 percent over those five years. "

The state land department manages about 9.2 million acres deeded to the state by the federal government when Arizona became a state. The land is held in trust to provide revenue for K-12 schools and 12 other beneficiaries, and proceeds from sales are put into an account for ongoing revenue.

The permanent land trust account has grown from $2.4 billion in 2009 to the current $5.1 billion, and is projected to hit $7.6 billion by 2020 if no changes are made.

By law, 2.5 percent of the cash is sent annually to schools, about $80 million in the current budget year. Ducey wants that increased to 10 percent for five years, then 5 percent for the following five years.

The proposal is the latest in a series of moves by the governor as he tries to change the way the state funds its K-12 schools and increase money going to classrooms. Late last month, he named members to a panel to study a complete revamp of the state's complex school finance formulas. Also last month, two nationally recognized school overhaul veterans headlined a leadership summit that Ducey organized.

But it also comes after he signed a budget for the coming year that cut taxes while essentially leaving K-12 school funding flat. And a lawsuit filed by school districts on missed inflation funding payments that could cost the state as much as $2.8 billion remains in mediation.

Ducey has called for the case to be settled and Scarpinato said the new proposal will not affect required yearly inflation boosts moving forward.

Ducey met with Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and key school superintendents Wednesday, and his staff met with other education leaders, Scarpinato said.