Ducey to revise developing plan to fund school waiting lists

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PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's plan to use up to $24 million to help schools lower their borrowing costs will be substantially changed in the coming year, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the plan included in the state budget passed in March and never fully developed will be "enhanced" but still target the state's top traditional and charter schools.

The governor included $24 million in the current budget to back loans taken out by schools for expansion, allowing them to get lower interest rates, and earmarked an additional $21 million for the coming budget year. That additional cash is now off the table.

That plan primarily would benefit privately owned public charter schools. District schools already can borrow at very low rates.

The new "Access Our Best Public Schools Fund" tapped money once intended for high-achieving schools.

The plan Ducey presented just after he took office in January also proposed using 400,000 empty classroom seats to allow the state's top public traditional and charter schools to expand.

Ducey never fully laid out his plans for how the $24 million in the fiscal year 2016 budget would be used. His proposal drew criticism from many who said that using state funds to help privately owned charter schools violated the Arizona Constitution, but Ducey brushed off those concerns.

A fully developed plan was expected to be presented to a joint committee of the House and Senate charged with spending oversight, followed by legislation when the general outline was approved. There was no timeline attached.

The plan's development was sidelined over the summer and fall as negotiations to settle a long-running school funding lawsuit dragged on. A settlement announced in October and approved by the Legislature pending voter approval will provide an additional $3.5 billion to K-12 schools over 10 years.

"Now that we've passed that benchmark, policy staff is taking a fresh pair of eyes on how best to make this plan work," Scarpinato said. "You'll see an enhanced plan in the New Year that will be focused on giving our best public schools the ability to expand and bring educational opportunities."

He declined to provide further details.

One of Ducey's major campaign slogans during his 2014 campaign was to "fund the wait lists," a reference to top performing traditional and charter schools with long lists of students wanting to enroll. He proposed the creation of the "Arizona Public School Achievement District" and the loan backing facility in his State of the State address in January.

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