Center Gets Quick Reversal on State's Unlawful Denial of Autism Services
Thanks to the leadership and quick action of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Autistic children and adults with limited resources now have one less barrier to receiving help – affecting hundreds of lives and ending a conflict that could have stretched on for years.
In early 2016, the Center learned that the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities unlawfully added more stringent levels of eligibility for Autism therapy and services than is required by statutory and regulatory standards. The Center began receiving calls from families and well-established professionals in the field stating their clients were being denied services, or terminated from eligibility, based on the new policy.
In response, the Center gathered a panel of experts, including doctors from the University of Arizona Medical School, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and experts from the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and the Autism Society of Greater Phoenix. The group, with the Arizona Center for Disability Law, sent a letter to the state outlining the legal violations as well as the lack of clinical support for the policy.
The Division agreed to eliminate all of the problematic provisions of the new standards.
“As providers, we know when something is not right but we don’t understand the law behind it. And I think people in charge know that we don’t know, so they aren’t likely to change what they are doing, no matter how much we fight,” said Dr. Sydney Rice, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the University of Arizona Department of Pediatrics, who was on the panel. “But when an attorney is involved, people start paying attention… A lawyer can pull up a statute and explain it and suddenly you get respect.”
Low-income families seeking services and therapy through the Division must still qualify for help under the AHCCCS requirements for the Arizona Long Term Care program, which are more restrictive. Going forward, the Center will continue to monitor potential cases of individuals being denied help as well as strive to eliminate barriers for those who are already qualified to receive services from AHCCCS to meet their treatment needs for Autism.
“If (the Center) hadn’t gotten involved with this case, I think the issue would have gone on for years, and that would have had a severe impact on these families,” Rice said.
There is a great deal of work that needs to be done to make sure that eligible individuals get appropriate and effective assistance and the Center is committed to its strong advocacy of these vulnerable families and people.
The Center Supports Proposition 123
We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about whether the Center supports Proposition 123. The answer is yes and here’s why.
We represent the school organizations and school districts in the inflation funding litigation and participated in the settlement resulting in Proposition 123. Proposition 123 will put a lot of desperately needed money into schools immediately. It will provide over $300 million a year to public schools over the next ten years funded in most part by larger withdrawals from Arizona State Land Trust Fund.
The Trust Fund was established to support public education and that is what this money is going to be spent for. It has more than enough money in it today to absorb the payments over the next ten years. In fact, after the end of ten years, it is expected that the Trust Fund will have $6 billion - - even more money than it does today - - and will continue to grow at that point. We don’t see any point in amassing a huge balance in the Trust Fund when public schools desperately need the money right now.
At the end of the ten year period, the legislature will still be required to provide annual inflation funding, it just won’t be able to use the Trust Fund. Instead, it will have to provide those payments from the general fund.
While the litigation has resulted in favorable rulings, contrary to what some have said, the courts have not yet ordered the state to pay any particular sum of money. We would still need to litigate this case for another two to three years before we get to that point. That’s why we settled for most of the funding now as opposed to an uncertain outcome years down the road.
If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to call Tim Hogan at 602-258-8850.
PLAINTIFFS SETTLE SCHOOL INFLATION FUNDING CASE
On October 30, Governor Ducey signed legislation enacted by the legislature in special session that settles the school inflation funding case so long as it is approved by voters next May 17.
Don Peters and the Center represent the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The Plaintiffs include the Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona Association of School Business Officials and school districts and individuals. The lawsuit began in 2010 contending that the legislature had failed to appropriately fund inflation for public schools as required by Proposition 301 which was approved by voters in 2000. In 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court determined that the legislature must comply with Proposition 301 and remanded the case to the trial court to determine exactly what that meant. In September 2014, the trial court entered judgment for the Plaintiffs on the base level amount that should be reset and funded going forward. The legislature appealed that judgment. The trial court has yet to issue a decision on the amount of back pay, if any, that was owed to the school districts for the years that inflation funding was not paid.
The settlement provides over $300 million each year over the next ten years for a total of $3.5 billion. The settlement agreed to by the Plaintiffs and the legislature resets the base level for future funding to 72% of where the Plaintiffs think it should have been and additionally provides $625 million in additional funding to school districts and charter schools over the next ten years. The inflation funding requirement is permanent and extends indefinitely beyond the ten years.
A majority of the funding for the settlement will come from the state land trust. This is a trust fund that consists of proceeds from the sale of lands deeded to the state when it entered the Union in 1912 as well as earnings from those proceeds that have accumulated over time. Currently, the balance in the fund is approximately $5 billion and it is distributed at the rate of 2.5% of the previous five year average balance. The settlement that was approved will increase that distribution for ten years to 6.9% after which it will revert to the current 2.5%. Without the settlement, it is estimated that the trust fund balance would be approximately $9 billion in ten years. With the settlement, it is expected that the balance will be reduced to about $6 billion.
The settlement requires voter approval because it changes certain portions of the Arizona Constitution regarding not only the inflation requirement but also the distribution of the state school land trust. There will be special election on May 17, 2016 at which voters will be asked to approve or reject the settlement.
While the settlement does not represent the full amount that we could have achieved under a “best case scenario” had we continued litigation in court, it represents over 90% of the full inflation funding that would otherwise have been paid to public schools over the next ten years. Given the potential for delay by several years to the conclusion of the litigation and the uncertainty associated with the ultimate outcome, the Plaintiffs determined that it was important to get substantial funding into Arizona schools now as opposed to waiting for an uncertain outcome later.