Lyon: Beware of legislative tricks in education funding resolution


Again, the Arizona Legislature displayed no regard for the will of the voters. In 2000, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure "to forever increase funding for schools by 2 percent or the change in the gross domestic price deflator, whichever is less.”

Faced with declining revenue from the Great Recession, lawmakers stopped paying inflation funding beginning with the 2009-2010 school year.i The Arizona School Boards Association sent a letter to the Senate President and House Speaker stating it would not sue if inflation adjustments were made and savings could be found elsewhere. But, beginning in 2010, the Legislature ignored the law and, worse, made huge cuts to the schools' budgets.ii

In 2013, as the legal suit made its way through the courts, Arizona public schools offered to halt their legal claim to more than $1.2 billion in "back-pay" if the State would agree to make the most current adjustment. Lawmakers balked, refusing to admit they broke the law and disregarding the state Auditor General’s report that funds reaching the classroom are at a 13-year low.iii

Maricopa County Superior Court, ordered by the Arizona Supreme Court, entered a specific judgment requiring the State begin by paying $317 million owed to public schools for the coming year.iv

This first installment of the nearly $1.6 billion owed from over five years would begin to decrease personal spending teachers put into their classrooms and keep spending "level" from last year. It would begin to restore monies to repair facilities instead of having to take funds out of classrooms to fix leaking roofs and faucets. Finally, the broken desks could be repaired so there would be enough for all the children in the bloated classrooms. Students might even be able to have music and art classes again (the other one half of their brains) because a few of the instruments might get fixed and art supplies replenished.

Oral arguments will be in late October regarding the additional $1.3 billion owed for retroactive inflation costs.v

But watch out for Legislative tricks. Some may try to change part of the school funding formula after-the-fact. They want to reduce the base amount on which the inflation is calculated. Their goal would be to have the court's ruling result in net zero gains to schools and deprive our children of the funds demanded by voters who passed Proposition 301.

While more money doesn’t necessarily mean better academic performance, Arizona consistently ranks near the bottom nationally in per-student K-12 spending. In fact, from 2008-13, Arizona made the highest cuts in the country. At the same time, Arizona ranks 47th for education in the 2013 Kids Count Data Even the extremely conservative American Legislative Exchange Council ranks Arizona's schools' performance 36th, hardly a position that attracts businesses looking for a jobs-ready work force.vii

Many of Arizona's children have already lost six years they can never get back! We have a deep hole to dig out of, but there's no time like the present to get started fixing our public schools.