Arizona’s public schools enroll about 1.1 million students, with 47% in poverty, 12% learning English, 56% minorities, and annual expenditures of about $8.4 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In federal court, plaintiffs in Flores v. Horne allege the state is denying English language learners (ELLs) equal access to the state’s curriculum in violation of the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA).
In Roosevelt Elementary Sch. Dist. v. Bishop, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the state’s capital funding system under the state constitution’s "general and uniform" provision. In response, the state implemented a capital funding system that improved school facilities and equipment in all types of districts.
In 2013, in Cave Creek v. Ducey, the state court of appeals held that the state must fund inflation in its K-12 budget every year, in accordance with Proposition 301, passed in 2000.
The parties in Flores v. Horne await a ruling after a trial held in 2011. Although the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s previous ruling that the state was violating the EEOA, the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2009 reversed, in part, and remanded the case.
In response to the Roosevelt Elementary Sch. Dist. v. Bishop case, the state implemented an innovative capital funding system in 1998, which resulted in better facilities across the state. However, new plaintiffs claim the state has failed to provide the required “Building Renewal” funding and therefore many school districts lack sufficient funds to maintain their facilities, in Sierra Vista Sch, Dist. v. State.
In Roosevelt Elementary Sch. Dist. v. Bishop, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the state’s capital funding system under the state constitution’s "general and uniform" provision. The court held that a constitutionally adequate facilities funding system must provide sufficient funding to all school districts for the facilities and equipment necessary to offer all students the opportunity to master the state student learning standards. The court also held that the funding mechanism chosen by the state must not itself cause substantial disparities among districts.
In response, the state implemented a capital funding system that improved school facilities and equipment in all types of districts. More recently, however, two school districts filed Sierra Vista Unified Sch. Dist. v. State to challenge the legislature’s alleged failures to fully fund the Building Renewal portion of the system. In 2009, the trial court held that plaintiffs had to exhaust all other sources of state funding, including seeking emergency funding from the School Facilities Board, before pursuing judicial relief. The districts applied for emergency funding and, if their applications are rejected, plan to return to court.
In 1992, plaintiffs filed Flores v. Horne (formerly Flores v. State) in federal court, challenging the state’s funding of ELL programs. The trial court held that the state had not taken "appropriate action" that would allow ELL students to become proficient in English, and thus violated the rights of ELL students under federal law.
In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed two lower court rulings, affirmed by the Ninth Circuit that had found the state remained in violation of the EEOA. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court, instructing it to consider improvements that the state had made. The Education Law Center, along with other groups, filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in support of the respondent ELL students titled, "Brief of Civil Rights Organizations."
The remand trial concluded in early 2011. Key issues included the state's procedures for identifying ELL students, the assessment the state prescribes for English proficiency, and whether the required format of ELL instruction, four hours per day, unlawfully segregates these students and denies them access to the curriculum.
In 2011, a state trial court rejected plaintiffs’ argument, in Cave Creek Unified Sch. Dist. v. Ducey, that the state must adjust its education funding for inflation, in accordance with Proposition 301. Plaintiffs appealed, and in 2013, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the state is not permitted to ignore propositions that voters have approved, including Prop 301, approved in 2000. The court also found that Proposition 301 creates a binding obligation on the legislature to fund specific inflation adjustments to its K-12 budget, every year. The state has the option of appealing to the Arizona Supreme Court.
In Crane Elementary Sch. Dist. v. State, plaintiff school districts alleged that the failure of the state school funding system to fund programs for "at-risk" students, including pre-K, rendered the system unconstitutional. The appellate court, however, found that funding for these programs was not constitutionally required to provide an "adequate educational opportunity" for at-risk students, and the state supreme court denied review.
"The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system, which system shall include: 1. Kindergarten schools. 2. Common schools. 3. High schools. 4. Normal schools. 5. Industrial schools. 6. Universities, which shall include an agricultural college, a school of mines, and such other technical schools as may be essential, until such time as it may be deemed advisable to establish separate state institutions of such character." Ariz. Const. art. 11, §1(A).
"The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible. The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years." Ariz. Const. art. 11, § 6.
In Roosevelt Elementary Sch. Dist. v. Bishop, the Arizona Supreme Court found that the state’s school capital funding system did not meet the "general and uniform" demand of the constitution’s education article. The court held that "because the state’s financing system," one in which 45% of revenue depends on local property values, "is itself the cause of…disparities, the system…does not comply with [the education article of the state constitution]." 877 P.2d 806 (1994). The court went on to specify "that a general and uniform school system does not require perfect equality or identity" but it would not allow the "state’s own financing scheme" to be the cause of disparities. Id.
In compliance proceedings in the same case, known then as Hull v. Albrecht (Albrecht I), the supreme court described components of a school capital finance system that complies with Article XI, Section 1, writing that legislatively established standards for adequate capital facilities are a core component of a general and uniform system: "The concepts of statewide substantial equalization and local option to go above and beyond the standard are irreconcilable unless the legislature establishes standards for adequate capital facilities." 950 P.2d 1141 (1997).
The court continued:
"Once a standard is set, the legislature must choose a funding mechanism that does not cause substantial disparities and that ensures that no school in Arizona falls below the standard. A district may then choose to go above, but not below, the statewide standards for capital facilities, and this will not run afoul of the general and uniform requirement. The general and uniform requirement applies only to the state's constitutional obligation to fund a public school system that is adequate. Defining adequacy, in the first instance, is a legislative task. But, in addition to providing a minimum quality and quantity standard for buildings, a constitutionally adequate system will make available to all districts financing sufficient to provide facilities and equipment necessary and appropriate to enable students to master the educational goals set by the legislature or by the State Board of Education pursuant to the power delegated by the legislature." Id.
The court in Albrecht I established "a two-pronged test for assessing whether a school financing system meets the state constitutional requirements:
- the state must establish minimum adequate facility standards and provide funding to ensure that no district falls below them; and
- the funding mechanism chosen by the state must not itself cause substantial disparities between districts." 960 P.2d 634 (1998).
No court in Arizona has ruled on the issue of state funding for pre-K. The plaintiffs in Crane Elementary Sch. Dist. v. State alleged that the state’s failure to fund at-risk programs, including high quality pre-K, rendered the school finance system unconstitutional. In Espinoza v. State, the plaintiffs suggested preschool as one of the "known and effective programs to assist economically disadvantaged students in overcoming…barriers to success in school and achieving the state’s prescribed academic standards." However, courts in both cases found that the state was meeting its constitutional obligations and did not address pre-K specifically.
Education Justice/Education Law Center Amicus Brief
Education Law Center—along with Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy, (META Inc.), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Public Advocates, Inc., and others—filed an amicus curiae brief in Flores v. State of Arizona, the "Brief of Civil Rights Organizations" in support of respondents. The brief discussed the alleged relationship between the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and the No Child Left Behind Act
Education Law Center—along with Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy, (META Inc.), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Public Advocates, Inc., and others—filed an amicus curiae brief in Flores v. State of Arizona, the "Brief of Civil Rights Organizations" in support of respondents. The brief discussed the relationship between the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and the No Child Left Behind Act.
In the past, Arizona offered preschool programs through its Early Childhood Block Program (ECBG). This program served 4% of all 4-year-olds, but was rated only 3 out of 10 on the established quality indicators.
Unfortunately, funding for this program was significantly reduced in FY 2010, and was eliminated in FY 2011, placing Arizona on the list of states that do not publicly fund pre-K as of fall of 2010.