When it comes to Arizona funding for public education, I just don’t get why the public body isn’t in the streets with pitchforks. Please walk down memory lane with me on the matter of voter mandated inflationary funding for school districts:
- AZ voters mandated (Proposition 301) the state sales tax be raised by 0.6 percent and that the money be spent on annual inflation increases for schools.
- Lawmakers quit providing the annual boosts for inflation.
- The Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) and the Arizona Education Association (AEA) offered to “move on” if the Legislature would only begin to comply, but they refused.
- Several school districts, ASBA and AEA filed a lawsuit to force compliance.
- A Superior Court Judge ruled Prop 301 did not require the Arizona legislature to annually inflate education funding for Arizona’s public schools.
- The plaintiffs filed an appeal.
- AZ Court of Appeals reversed the lower court.
- AZ Supreme Court ruled with the Court of Appeals that the inflationary increases must be paid. The decision emphasized that the Voter Protection Act limits the legislature’s power to modify voter initiatives and referenda.
- The legislature began paying the increases again in the 2013-2014 budget year.
- The trial court ordered the base level funding be reset to the level it would have been if it had been inflated properly over the last five years (estimated to be $1.6B over the next five years.)
- The court also ordered an evidentiary hearing be held on whether the state should pay the $1.3 billion in inflationary funding not given the districts from 2010 to 2012.[i]
- The parties in the lawsuit agreed to mediation in an attempt to resolve the matter.[ii]
So where are we now, seven months after the ruling the monies must be paid? Yep, that’s right, nowhere. Not only has the Legislature refused to comply with law and judicial order, but they continue to further cut the public education budget. This legislative session, three new expansions of voucher eligibility have passed their committees of origin as has a bill to make it even harder for Districts to pass bonds and overrides. In addition, Governor Ducey is proposing a five percent reduction to “non-classroom” expenses.
Then yesterday, the House Education Committee gave a “due pass” to basically dump the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards “common core.” This, after our school districts have spent huge amounts of financial and human capital since 2010 to implement these standards. Statewide, the costs are estimated to have been $156M just for the 2013-2014 school year, and that doesn’t consider the turmoil caused by changing course yet again.[iii]
Okay, so to recap, the Legislature has refused to comply with both the people’s mandate and with judiciary orders for the same. In addition, they are working on legislation to divert even more taxpayer dollars from public education to private providers and, the Governor’s budget looks to cut another $113.5M from district budgets across the board, as with a sequestration.[iv]
Are you kidding me? It is beyond time for us to demand our representatives listen to us. I’m calling for an Arizona Education (AZED) Spring . Yes, that’s a play on the Arab Spring. Of course, I’m not looking to start a real revolution; I’ll leave anything to do with guns to our legislature to obsess over. What I do hope for though, is for the public body to wake up after a very long hibernation that has allowed our representatives to continue to ignore the will of the people and the rule of law. I’d love to hear what you think.