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Continued delays by state shortchanging education of Arizona’s students

Phoenix, AZ – September 22, 2014 – One year after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in favor of public schools in Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey, parents, teachers and education advocates are calling for an end to delay tactics and legal maneuvers by the state that are keeping more than $300 million out of Arizona district and charter schools this school year.

“Arizona schools have yet to see any of the money they are owed by the State Legislature since last year’s ruling because the state has engaged in stall tactics and is now attempting to tie up the case in appeals,” said Dr. Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. “Compounding the issue and the urgency is the fact the Legislature stopped funding our classrooms as the law requires beginning in the 2009-2010 school year.”

As a result, more than half-a-million Arizona district and charter school students – those children who are in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth and fifth grade this school year – have never had the opportunity to learn in a classroom that was funded in the manner the voters intended when they passed Prop. 301 in 2000.

“Our elected officials have let me down as a voter and taxpayer, but worse they have let down my children, our school community and the committed teachers who have been charged with laying the foundation for their educational success during these important early years,” said Jen Darland, a Tucson parent of a third-grader and a fifth-grader who attend public school.

Prop. 301 requires that the Arizona State Legislature provide small increases to the state’s base funding level for education each year to account for increases in the costs of basic goods and services. The Legislature has not done so since fiscal year 2009. In June 2010, a coalition of Arizona school districts and education organizations filed a lawsuit to compel the Legislature to meet this legal obligation. The courts have agreed with the position of public schools, however, to date no funds have been provided.

“As a teacher, the academic success of each of my students is important to me; however, I can only do so much with so little support from the state,” said Beth Maloney, a fifth-grade teacher at Dysart USD’s Sunset Hills Elementary School and the 2014 Arizona Teacher of the Year. “With increasing class sizes and higher expectations, I am not able to spend as much individual time with my students. Arizona’s children deserve better from our state. They deserve a fully funded education and a learning environment that will give the best chance at success in life after high school.”

Failure to fund the inflation increase required by the passage of Prop. 301 has been exacerbated by recent cuts in Arizona per-pupil funding, which were the steepest in the nation during the Great Recession. The collective results have included larger class sizes, parents and teachers paying more out-of-pocket for classroom supplies, and a shortage of quality teachers.

“The greatest impact of the Legislature’s decision to not provide the statutory base support level has been to reduce our ability to attract and retain teachers,” said Frank Davidson, superintendent of the Casa Grande Elementary School District. “We have very real and pressing challenges that will ultimately impact student learning. Our state cannot afford to shortchange our children's education in year-long appeals.”

On Sept. 11, the state requested that the court order requiring that the state immediately adjust the base level funding be put on hold until its appeal of that ruling makes it through the court system, adding another roadblock to this vital funding for classrooms. Coalition members are also rebuking the state for ignoring numerous settlement offers.

“Education is a top priority for Arizonans, but we understand that the state provides funding for many important programs and services,” said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “It’s unfortunate that our efforts to be reasonable and to only request adequate funding as approved by the voters for Arizona public school students have fallen on deaf ears.”

Since the Sept. 26, 2013, Arizona Supreme Court decision, the coalition has made numerous overtures to begin settlement discussions. A formal offer made by the coalition in February 2014 would have provided immediate financial relief to schools and enabled the state to settle the case for less than 25 cents on the dollar of what is owed. The offer was ignored and may no longer be extended as litigation moves forward.

“The money owed to Arizona's children is long overdue,” says AEA President Andrew F. Morrill. “It is time for the Legislature to meet its responsibility to our students so we can move our state forward. If our state's leaders had done the right thing from the beginning, they wouldn't be in the predicament they're in now. The longer they put this off, the more our students suffer.”

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