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Arizona Dems say GOP seeking ‘cover’ on school cuts

PHOENIX — Legislative Democrats on Wednesday accused majority Republicans of pushing legislation delaying required teacher layoff notices to get “cover” from criticism over big cuts to education they’re planning in the upcoming state budget.

Identical bills advancing in the Arizona House and Senate would postpone existing deadlines for notifying teachers that they may not be offered a contract for the next school year until June 15. The legislation also would postpone a deadline for districts to disclose planned pay cuts.

Democrats from the House and Senate said Republicans are preparing “massive cuts” in education funding to close a big budget shortfall. They accuse their counterparts of trying to head off two months of protests that would be prompted by layoff notices going out starting in April.

“They want to give some cover to themselves,” said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson.

Instead of seeking to deprive teachers of the required notices, Republicans should provide assurances they won’t cut school funding below current levels, said Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Apache Junction.

House Speaker Kirk Adams, a Mesa Republican who co-sponsored the legislation with Senate President Bob Burns, said the Democrats’ criticism of Republicans’ purported motives was “hogwash.”

The bill has backing from school officials “because of the uncertainty about the budget,” Adams noted. “Clearly they need more time. I think it’s irresponsible for the Democrats to want to see potentially thousands of pink slips go out that would be unnecessary, and they’re putting a lot of families in a bad situation by doing that.”

Appearing with the Democrats at a news conference, Arizona Education Association President John Wright said teachers “would prefer to know sooner than later” that they might have to look for new jobs.

The state faces a projected $3 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year’s budget based on $11 billion of spending.

While lawmakers cannot reduce huge swaths of school funding because it is protected by voter mandate, Republican budget-writers have identified some K-12 funding for possible cuts. Those include money for all-day kindergarten and a funding stream for computers, textbooks and other equipment.

The GOP budget-writers are expected to release recommendations later this month following closed-door talks now under way with rank-and-file Republican lawmakers.

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