Law & Courts

Ariz. Governor Signs Deal to Settle K-12 Suit

By The Associated Press — November 10, 2015 3 min read

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation intended to pump $3.5 billion into K-12 education over the next decade to settle a long-running lawsuit stemming from the state’s decision to raid school spending during the Great Recession.

The deal still requires voter approval in a May 17 special election. Ducey said he will campaign to build public support.

Calling it a victory for Arizona schoolchildren, the Republican governor approved the legislation after it was passed Oct. 30 during a special legislative session that featured several emotionally charged exchanges over how to properly pay for public schools.

Recession-Era Cuts

Arizona is one of the most striking examples of states still dealing with the fallout from their decisions to slash education spending when the recession ravaged budgets during the last decade.

A voter-approved referendum in Arizona has long required lawmakers to provide annual inflation-based increases to K-12 education, but the legislature quit making the payments when the recession hit and decimated the housing and construction industries that had been the linchpin of the state economy.

Schools sued over the loss of the inflation funding, and the five-year legal case wound its way through the courts.

Schools say they are satisfied with the agreement, in which they are to receive about 70 percent of the cash they would have gotten if they had ultimately prevailed in the state supreme court.

The settlement cash would come from $1.4 billion in general fund money and $2 billion in state land trust proceeds.

“Together we’re sending a strong message about the value of public education in our state,” Ducey said before signing the bill as lawmakers, educators, and other supporters looked on. “To our teachers—we know your worth... With this plan, you’ll have the resources you’ve been asking for.”

Schools will receive $3.9 billion in the current budget year from the state general fund, including $3.4 billion in basic school aid. The bills approved Oct. 30 would add about $300 million a year to that total.

Democratic efforts to amend the bills in the Senate and the House, including removing language that will cap future school spending and changing how the plan was funded, were rejected by majority Republicans.

Ducey’s first-year budget left K-12 funding flat, and he and fellow Republicans faced vocal pressure in recent months from parents and voters who are becoming increasingly frustrated over education spending. A 2014 study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that Arizona’s per-student spending had fallen more than that of 47 other states since 2008, and funding remains 17 percent below pre-recession levels. The state is ranked 50th in per-student state funding for K-12 schools, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2013.

Other states are dealing with similar situations.

In Washington state, the highest court ruled in 2012 that state funding for education was not adequate, and lawmakers there have been scrambling to come up with a solution ever since.

In August, state justices began fining the Washington legislature $100,000 a day. They said even though lawmakers had increased K-12 spending, they still weren’t setting aside enough money to educate the state’s 1 million schoolchildren—something they are required to do under the state constitution.

Washington state lawmakers have pledged to address the issue when the legislature convenes in January.

Funding Source

In Arizona, the deal would increase withdrawals from the state’s $5 billion permanent land trust from 2.5 percent a year to nearly 7 percent.

The land trust component that Ducey proposed in June as a separate way to get new money to schools became a key funding source for the settlement, providing 60 percent of the cash. The remaining $1.4 billion would come from the general fund.

Senate President Andy Biggs, a Republican, chided those who criticized the plan as insufficient.

“The reality is this is a sunny day, a day to be grateful to be an Arizonan,” he said.

School officials and Democratic lawmakers said the money marks a good start but much more needs to be done. They noted elections next month in which many school districts will ask voters to approve new bonds and budget-limit overrides.

A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2015 edition of Education Week as Arizona Governor Signs Deal to Settle K-12 Funding Suit


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts California COVID-19 Closures Infringed Private School Parents' Rights, Federal Court Rules
A federal appeals court holds that the state's closure rules for private schools were not narrowly tailored to serve compelling interests.
4 min read
Image shows a courtroom and gavel.
Law & Courts 'I Just Want to Play.' Judge Halts W. Va. Law Barring Transgender Girls From Girls' Sports
Ruling for an 11-year-old transgender girl, the judge holds that the law likely violates the equal-protection clause and Title IX.
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Praying Coach v. District That Suspended Him: What's Next in Fight Over Religious Expression
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to reconsider an earlier panel ruling that sided with the school district.
4 min read
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after his team lost to Centralia in Bremerton, Wash., on Oct. 16, 2015. Kennedy, who was suspended for praying at midfield after games, has filed a discrimination complaint on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission according to The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm representing the coach.
Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after a game in October 2015 when he was the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. In a long-running legal fight, Kennedy contends he has First Amendment free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion rights to express his Christian faith while on the job. The case is likely headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lindsey Wasso/The Seattle Times via AP
Law & Courts Appeals Court Again Backs Transgender Student, But on Narrower Grounds Amid Signs of Rift
A federal appeals panel removed a holding for student Drew Adams based on Title IX, perhaps to ward off a rehearing by the full court.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+