On Monday, May 1, 2017 the Center, along with Mary R. O’Grady from Osborn Maledon, filed a lawsuit on behalf of public school districts across the state challenging the State’s failure to adequately fund public schools. The plaintiff group includes the Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Administrators, Arizona Association of School Business Officials, Elfrida Elementary School District, Chino Valley Unified School District, Crane Elementary School District, Glendale Elementary School District and Kathy Knecht, a private citizen who resides in the city of Peoria.
The Arizona Constitution requires the legislature to “enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system.” Ariz. Const. art. 11, sec. 1. It also requires the State to make “such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions….” art. 11, sec. 10. The State, however, has failed to comply with this mandate and has, instead, transferred its constitutional obligation to fund public schools to local taxpayers. As a result, the school system throughout the state is not “uniform” as the Constitution requires.
The Center sued the state over the same issue in 1994, successfully arguing that relying on local taxpayers to pay the bill by passing bonds to cover school-maintenance costs put schools in low-income areas at a disadvantage which violates the state Constitution. A settlement agreement in 1998 included $1.3 billion in one-time money to bring buildings to state standards, and about $200 million a year to schools for soft capital for necessities such as textbooks, buses and technology. Since then, the Legislature has gradually continued to axe the program, so that even after the economy has recovered from the Great Recession the cuts continue to increase year after year.
Instead of prioritizing public education for funding, the Legislature has cut $4.56 billion dollars to public schools since 2009. And those cuts have never been restored. These cuts don’t account for the effects of inflation or growth in the student population. And while the dollars are gone, the needs and services these funding sources paid for continue to exist across the state. State leaders have ignored this obligation far too long, they have lost this fight once, and it is time to step up and adequately fund public schools according to the law.