Tucson Unified School District Superintendent H.T. Sanchez spoke in a Senate Finance Committee hearing at the state Capitol this morning to testify against a bill that seeks to defund desegregation programs at some state schools. The bill passed the hearing, which means it is now headed to the state Senate floor, but sponsor and chair of the committee, state Sen. Debbie Lesko of Glendale, said she would work on an amendment to meet TUSD's special needs, since the school district is one of 18 in the state under the Unitary Status Plan
. In TUSD's case, it is a federal court order with the purpose to make schools more diverse via trainings, programs, courses, and allowing children in certain areas of the city attend schools out of that area (these are known as magnet schools).
Provisions of SB 1317
1. Requires school districts that have an existing or previous administrative agreement with the OCR and budgets monies for desegregation expenses outside the revenue control limit to reduce those expenses by at least 15 percent of the amount levied in FY 2009-2010 for five consecutive years beginning in FY 2016-2017 and prohibits those schools from budgeting for desegregation expenses outside the revenue control limit after FY 2022-2023.
2. Requires school districts that are subject to an existing or previous court order of desegregation and budgets monies for desegregation expenses outside the revenue control limit to reduce those expenses by at least 7 percent of the amount levied in FY 2009-2010 for 10 consecutive years beginning in FY 2016-2017 and prohibits those schools from budgeting for desegregation expenses outside the revenue control limit after FY 2027-2028.
3. Becomes effective on the general effective date.
Sanchez says that, although the legislation got the OK today, the district has submitted documents and testimonials on why desegregation money is important to the district, as well as details of where exactly these funds go within TUSD to favor the Unitary Status Plan, which will all hopefully resonate with lawmakers in reaching a decision that will continue to support the district on that side of things.
"They were willing to further explore and understand TUSD's circumstances, so that TUSD can reach unitary status," he says.
The plan is very specific in providing all students of all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds in the district with "above and beyond" programs such as drop-out prevention help, transportation, academic assistance such as study sessions, etc. Sanchez says that if the funding disappears, there would be no way the district would be able to afford any of that (this would be on top of all other budget cuts happening in TUSD, and the looming threat of the state taking 10 percent of monthly aid if the district doesn't fix alleged violations of the state law
that banned the Mexican American studies program).
He urges the state Legislature to protect something that is supporting all students' academic advancement, not just a select few.
Some background provided by the state Legislature:
Eighteen school districts in Arizona currently budget for costs resulting from a court order of desegregation, which applies only to Phoenix Union and Tucson Unified (TUSD), or an ongoing or resolved OCR administrative agreement, which applies to sixteen other school districts. Arizona statute allows a school district to budget and levy an additional property tax above and beyond the tax used for regular maintenance and operations for expenses incurred for any measures or activities designed to remediate alleged or proven racial discrimination. This budget authority is typically referred to as “desegregation funding,” although monies may be used to remediate any civil rights category violation.
TUSD receives more than $63 million (the money comes from a local property tax) for the desegregation programs. According to the documents presented at the hearing, TUSD is one of two school districts above the "1 percent cap," which is a constitutional protection for homeowners "that limits their primary property tax exposure to 1 percent of the home's total limited property value."
From the state Legislature:
Given defunding of desegregation, Maricopa Unified would still be over the 1 percent cap because they currently exceed it by an estimated $5.2 million. Desegregation, however, is responsible for only $1.3 million of that total. TUSD would no longer be over the 1 percent cap without desegregation funding because they are currently over the 1 percent cap by $18.3 million, so eliminating $63.7 million of desegregation funding would more than offset the $18.3 million.
From the $63 million, about $11 million go to magnet schools' programs, students outreach and recruiting services. Then there's about $8 million for things like translation and interpretation (ESL, etc.); another close to $8 million go to drop-out prevention and programs that aim to close the academic achievement gap.
Now, it's about waiting whether the state Senate will pass the bill. In that case, a version will head to the state House. Sanchez says there is still an open door, and he hopes that after lawmakers take a look at all of the information the district provided, the cuts won't happen.