Tax watchdog group says Arizona school districts poised to raise property taxes by $100 million despite COVID relief

The Arizona Tax Research Association says Arizona school districts have proposed a $98,886,980.56 increase in property taxes to fund transportation costs. This increase more than doubles state school district spending on the same item in FY2021, when $79,295,907 in property tax dollars were allocated for transportation costs.

The funding formula for transportation spending by school districts is based on route-miles driven the previous year. The sharp increase in property taxes was accomplished through the utilization of a caveat in the funding formula that allows school districts to increase their spending on transportation, denoted as Transpo Delta, in order to account for a difference between projected spending and historic spending.


Federal COVID relief spending

The coronavirus pandemic meant that “Arizona school districts used their school buses far less last school year,” ATRA Senior Analyst Sean McCarthy said. This means that some increase in spending on transportation might have been inevitable as the state and the nation emerge from the pandemic, and children go back to school.

An increase in spending on transportation costs by school districts was likely inevitable, but that does not account for a massive influx of federal fiscal relief for K-12 public schools that came about in response to the pandemic. The federal government has allocated nearly $4 billion in fiscal aid over the course of the past year towards Arizona’s K-12 education system, 90% of which is given “directly to school districts or charter schools.”

These relief funds “are one-time monies and mostly unrestricted, meaning they can be used for any legal purpose,” says McCarthy, “The one-time decrease in formula monies for transportation is a perfect example of what federal dollars should backfill.”

School districts are set to adopt these property tax hikes on Monday, August 16th. ATRA is encouraging the districts to reconsider.

“Saddling the community with increased property taxes when schools actually saved money on these programs last year is insulting and shows a complete lack of regard for taxpayers,” McCarthy said.

Joe Pitts

Joe Pitts is a student at Arizona State University and the program director for Business Ballot; executive director for the Arizona Junior Fellows program. You can reach him at [email protected]

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