On January 15, 2013, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the voter-approved
Proposition 301, which requires the state to fund inflation for public education.
Meanwhile, in the "Is
School Funding Fair?" report Arizona is one of only a handful of states
earning an "F" grade.
In Cave Creek School District v. Ducey and State of Arizona, the court
cited the Voter Protection Act to hold that the state cannot ignore Propositions
that the voters have approved. The appeals court also examined the legislature's
own calculations when Prop 301 was before the voters in 2000 and found that
the legislature understood from the beginning that funding inflation for schools
meant fully funding inflation.
This unanimous intermediate appellate court ruling by a three-judge panel
is available at the court's website, Cave
Creek USD et al. v. Arizona.
While Prop 301 would provide over $80 million annually for schools, Arizona has
an even bigger problem because the state has cut basic funding for public education
by over $1 billion in the last five years. Not surprisingly, Arizona received
an "F" in "state effort" from the "Is
School Funding Fair?" report, and is among the five worst states in the nation
in funding level, and dropping.
The report, "Is
School Funding Fair? A National Report Card --
2nd Edition", is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of
Education, David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC), and
Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC.
The report is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable
state systems of school finance are the essential precondition for the delivery
of a high-quality education. Without this foundation, efforts to improve the
nation's schools will fall flat. To sustain and improve on the condition and
performance of their schools, states need to implement funding systems that
provide sufficient funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs
of students, especially low income students, English language learners, and
students with disabilities.
The Report Card evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, "fairness
indicators"---funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and
public school coverage. Funding levels are adjusted to allow state-to-state
comparisons, and the funding distribution measure shows the extent to which
states direct more funding to high poverty school districts.
Arizona performs poorly on funding level and state fiscal effort and is below
average on funding distribution. The report finds that the average funding
level in Arizona is $7,899 per pupil. That is about $2,900 less than the national
average of $10,774. The state's inequitable funding system defies both common
sense and research which states that extra resources are required to meet the
challenges facing districts serving low-income students.
Regarding the Court of Appeals' ruling, the state has the option of appealing
to the Arizona Supreme Court. In fact, the Arizona
Republic newspaper reported that the House Speaker "said in a statement ...
that he will ask the attorney general to appeal ... ."
Ironically, the state "is expecting a surplus of nearly $700 million this
year and could draw on that to pay the education costs," the paper said. But,
how much of that surplus the state might direct towards education is unknown
at this time.
The Cave Creek plaintiffs were represented by Don Peters of LaSota & Peters
and Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for the Law in Public Interest (ACLPI).