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Arizona Supreme Court Says Legislature Must Fund Education Inflation Factor

The Arizona Education Association applauds the decision of the Arizona Supreme Court to uphold the will of Arizona voters and require the Arizona Legislature to fully fund the base level of education funding to ensure our students and public schools have the resources they need in order to be successful.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for Arizona’s students, public schools, and ultimately, Arizona’s citizens,” says AEA President Andrew F. Morrill. “It sends a clear message to state legislators that the will of the people must be upheld and the people want to support public education.”

AEA is part of a coalition of education groups challenging the legislature’s willful refusal to increase the base level of education funding for inflation in both the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 budgets, despite the clear intent of the voter-approved Proposition 301.

The Arizona Supreme Court held that through a ballot proposition or referendum, the voters could constitutionally direct the legislature to annually increase the base level for K-12 public school funding.  More importantly, the Court held that the funding plan created in Proposition 301 is protected by the Voter Protection Act in the Arizona Constitution, so the Arizona legislature could not constitutionally disregard the statutory directive to increase the base level funding. 

The decision emphasized that the voters and the legislature share lawmaking power in Arizona, but the Voter Protection Act limits the legislature’s power to modify voter initiatives and referenda.  The Court specifically affirmed that while one legislature cannot restrict the lawmaking powers of future legislatures, the Arizona Constitution allows the voters to restrict the powers of future legislatures. Thus, the legislature’s failure to adjust for inflation all of the components of the base level funding for the revenue control limit violated the Voter Protection Act.

The difference in funding is significant. Arizona’s leaders have cut over $1 billion in education funding since 2008. The state’s failure to fully fund inflation over the past three years has meant a loss to Arizona students of nearly $300 million. Unfortunately, the Court was unable to force the Legislature to repay the $300 million that it wrongfully withheld from public education since 2010. Thanks to the Arizona Court of Appeals ruling this past January, Arizona’s public schools saw their first increase in education funding in five years.

“At a time when Arizona is raising standards and accountability measures, common sense tells us that our state’s leaders should provide an equal amount of support and resources to help our students and schools meet our higher expectations,” says Morrill. “Instead we are seeing cut after cut, attacks on the teaching profession, and a system set up to defund our public education system through vouchers and tuition tax credits. Arizona’s leaders are setting our students, teachers, and schools up for failure and the citizens of our state are no longer willing to stand by and let them further damage the future of Arizona.”

Read Court ruling.

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