(Update) Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature faces another lawsuit for its failure to fund public education

I first posted about this pending lawsuit back in February 2015. This lawsuit from the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest is still pending and not yet filed, but may be ready to file soon. Our lawless Arizona legislature faces another lawsuit for its to fund public education:

education_appleMeanwhile, an earlier case in which our lawless Arizona legislature shortchanged our public schools, in which the Arizona Supreme Court held that the statutory financing scheme for public education violated the Arizona Constitution, Article XI, § 1, Roosevelt Elem. School Dist. No. 66  v. Bishop (No. CV-93-0168 1994), is now the basis for yet another lawsuit against our lawless Arizona legislature.

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Lawsuit will seek funding for school maintenance:

A public interest advocacy group is planning a lawsuit alleging that the state has unconstitutionally underfunded building maintenance and soft capital for school districts, which could force the state restore hundreds of millions of dollars of budget cuts made in recent years.

The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest plans to sue on behalf of several school districts and taxpayers, said attorney Tim Hogan. The Glendale Elementary School District’s governing board in December [2014] voted to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and Hogan said he plans to bring in several other school districts, along with property taxpayers from districts that have approved bonds to make up for funding shortfalls.

“It will allege that the current system is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide any dedicated capital funding to school districts sufficient to ensure that they meet the state’s minimum standards,” Hogan said of the lawsuit. “School buildings have to be renovated. They have to be repaired. They have to be maintained. And all of that requires significant dollars.”

Hogan said he could file the suit within the next month. [Still pending.]

In its landmark ruling in Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66 v. Bishop, the Arizona Supreme Court concluded that the state had violated a provision in the Arizona Constitution requiring the state to establish and maintain a “general and uniform” public school system. As part of its settlement in the case, which led to the creation of the Arizona School Facilities Board, the state agreed to provide funding for building renewal, which covers all aspects of building upkeep and maintenance, and soft capital expenditures such as textbooks and computers.

But that funding has dried up since the budget crises that were triggered by the Great Recession. Hogan said the SFB now provides $15 million to $20 million for building renewal, as opposed to the $250 million it would provide if the state’s Building Renewal Fund hadn’t been eliminated in 2013. Meanwhile, Hogan said school districts issue $300 million to $500 million in bonds each year, some of which is used to cover unfunded building renewal costs.

And soft capital funding from the state used to top $200 million per year, Hogan said. But that funding was cut in half when it was combined with capital outlay funding under the District Additional Assistance program, which was created in 2013. And Gov. Doug Ducey has proposed cutting an additional $113 million in District Additional Assistance funding for fiscal year 2016.

Hogan said the lawsuit will not seek a specific dollar amount from the state. Instead, it will ask for “sufficient funding” to cover building renewal and soft capital costs, which he noted could exceed $400 million, based on previous funding levels.

For more background on this lawsuit, see School funding lawsuit pending against state – Raising Arizona Kids (January 14, 2015).

Howard Fischer reports that this lawsuit may now be ready to be filed. Lawsuit over school construction funding looms:

Just as one lawsuit on education funding is being settled, state lawmakers face a new one, this one over what challengers say is their failure to build and maintain public schools.

Attorney Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest said the legislature is effectively ignoring a 1994 ruling by the state Supreme Court that declared it is illegal to have taxpayers in each school district solely responsible for school construction.

Lawmakers, after several failed attempts, finally approved a plan that was supposed to have the state pick up the responsibility. But Hogan said the legislature has not provided adequate funding in years.

The result, he said, has been to throw the burden back on local districts whose voters have to borrow money for what should be a state responsibility, precisely the situation the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in 1994.

Hogan is now working with local school districts who have been denied the money they need for new schools — money the state was supposed to provide — to ask Arizona judges to force lawmakers to properly fund the system.

* * *

Under the system in place before 1994, school districts borrowed money for new construction and repair it through local property tax.

That year the high court said it created disparities between rich districts that could afford domed stadiums and poor ones with plumbing that did not work. The court, however, refused to impose its own solution.

In 1996, the legislature agreed to put $100 million into a special fund that could be tapped by poor districts for construction needs. It also agreed to provide another $30 million a year for nine more years.

The Supreme Court found that plan flawed, too, saying it did not meet the constitutional requirement for a “general and uniform” school system.

A 1997 alteration provided more cash. But here, too, the justices said that was not enough.

“Districts … would still need to issue general obligation bonds in order to fund major capital projects, bonds that are backed by property values within a district,” Justice Frederick Martone wrote.

The net effect, he said, was that some districts had to impose large tax hikes to meet basic needs while others, relying on the district’s wealth, could get the same net cash with a smaller tax increase.

Lawmakers eventually approved the School Facilities Board which was supposed to pick up every district’s construction needs.

But they never came up with a new source of revenue to fund the potential $300 million annual price tag, instead absorbing the cost into the general fund. That, however, worked only when the economy was good and revenues were increasing.

Hogan said that account has not been fully funded for nearly a decade. And it was replaced three years ago with a new system where school districts could seek — but not be guaranteed — grant funds.

The result, he said, is that local districts that need schools but can’t wait for a state grant are once again having to turn to their voters for bond approval. And that brings the funding system back to what the Supreme Court previously found illegal.

“In some ways, we’re worse off than before,” Hogan said. At least the 1996 plan had $100 million set aside.

Howie then gets into some speculation about how the Prop. 123 settlement of Cave Creek Unified School District, et al. v. Ducey, which has not yet been approved by the Court, could affect this pending lawsuit.

[H]ere’s the thing: The deal agreed to between the state and the districts that filed the original 2010 lawsuit puts no strings on that approximately $300 million a year, a figure that comes out to about $300 per student.

“They can use it for anything the want,” Hogan said. And that, he said, could allow the state to argue that schools have plenty of money for new schools and needed repairs if they just use their Prop 123 dollars for those purposes.

“We need to be able to rebut that and say, ‘No, this money’s spoken for on the operational side and here’s how it’s going to be spent,’ ” he said, with the capital needs still underfunded.

Hogan said he has no timeline for when the new lawsuit will be filed.

The lawsuit has been in the planning stages since at least 2014, so let’s quit teasing the public with this lawsuit and just file it.

This lawsuit demonstrates that our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is not serious about honoring any commitments it makes to public education: they violated the Roosevelt Elementary School District No. 66 settlement, they violated Prop. 301 (a legislatively referred ballot measure I might add), and they will violate Prop. 123 and their promise that this was a “first step” to more public education funding. This needs to be the litmus test issue in November’s election.

The GOP is ideologically opposed to public education and to taxes to pay for it, despite the unambiguously clear mandates of the Arizona Constitution to provide for a robust public education system paid for by taxes. If you want to solve this problem, there really is only one answer: kick every lawless Tea-Publican out of office and hold them accountable for their lawlessness. Anyone who votes for a Tea-Publican candidate is an accessory and an accomplice to their crime.

One response to “(Update) Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature faces another lawsuit for its failure to fund public education

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    The GOP is ideologically opposed to unions because unions give money to Dems.

    Their goal is to destroy the teachers union. Trashing the school system through budget cuts is a tactic.

    They do not care about education.