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Arizona Public, Charter Schools To Face Budget Deficit

Arizona public and charter schools will face a $266 million budget deficit because the state gives money to remote learning schools at a lower rate than they do to in-person schools.

The state Department of Education released data on Thursday that shows how much schools will need to cut their budgets by this school year. Dozens of schools have to trim their budgets by over $1 million. Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in Arizona, will lose $16 million. Chandler Unified School will have its budget cut by $12 million. Tucson Unified School District will lose $11.9 million.

Under state law, online schools are funded at a rate 5% lower than in-person schools, per student.

The state has also experienced a sharp decline in the number of students enrolled in its schools. The state reported an estimated 50,000 fewer students than usual for the fall semester of 2020.

“Schools already struggling to maintain operations and meet their students’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic cannot afford cuts to their budgets,” Superintendent Kathy Hoffman said in a statement.

Federal coronavirus relief funds were given to schools to fill the deficit, but those grants have yielded less money than expected.

Austin Fast joined KJZZ in 2020 as he finished his master's degree in investigative journalism at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.Before moving to Phoenix, he covered the world’s largest wild salmon fishery at KDLG Public Radio in rural Alaska, wrote breaking news at a Cincinnati TV station, and taught English overseas with the Peace Corps. He now works on the investigations team at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.