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COURT ORDERS ARIZONA TO OBEY VOTERS, AZ SCHOOL FUNDING GETS AN "F"
January 21, 2013

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).

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19
www.edlawcenter.org
www.educationjustice.org


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