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Why a lawsuit is necessary for equitable, sustainable capital funding

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It’s good to see the dramatic support for the belief that great public schools need to be part of Arizona’s recipe for success. And we are making progress toward having the best public schools in every community. The state is now keeping pace with inflation funding and more money is being committed to meet student enrollment growth, as well as making permanent and inflation-protecting the 1.06 percent increase in teacher pay.

Timothy Ogle

Timothy Ogle

In addition, a plan to restore some of the long-standing capital formula cuts is now being openly discussed.

At the Arizona School Boards Association, we believe in making the complex seem simple. Our mission is to help children, not politicians, and while we recognize leadership is a tough business, we know that without strong, timely decisions, our state will continue to flounder. Working together toward the common goals of Arizona is the only path to success.

While the political “noise” surrounding the opening of the legislative session swirls, work with policymakers to turn around on the education classroom crisis will continue. Arizona schools currently have 5,371 classrooms without a qualified teacher teaching our children each day. People vote with their feet, and we know teachers are leaving this state by the day, electing to “walk” to neighboring states to continue their work. We currently pay our professional teaching staff less on average than 49 other states. If this does not define a crisis, nothing will, as we are choosing to shortchange a generation of
children.

Seven plaintiff partners have joined ASBA in filing a lawsuit challenging the state’s past decisions regarding compliance with the ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court in Roosevelt v. Bishop that the state must provide a “general and uniform” method of providing for the building and upkeep of school facilities.

One would think a Supreme Court decision would inspire policymakers to want to correct poor historic decisions. However, this is not the case. While some might see the case as a “bargaining chip” or a lobbying strategy, the truth is the key issue in the case is quite simple. Honor the court’s directives from 1994. The capital lawsuit seeks a system that addresses school district needs in a way that is equitable, sustainable and consistent with what the Arizona Constitution explicitly requires.

The pending Proposition 301 renewal and expansion is needed immediately. School districts require predictability if they are to offer teachers additional pay. Delaying Prop. 301 action for another legislative session will only add to the elements of our crisis. To avoid drama with the development of school district budgets, which are developed 20-24 months ahead of adoption by school boards, we must have a reliable commitment for renewal and improvement of this critical voter mandate. Without it, prudent financial management will force district officials to reduce programs and people prior to 2020 to prepare for the potential loss of $640 million generated by Prop. 301 at its current rate.

Adding insult to injury, the additional State Land Trust support offered under Proposition 123 will expire in 2025, requiring the state to replace over $200 million in support of the temporary increase in trust distributions provided. And on the horizon is the November vote to repeal of the largely unpopular school voucher expansion for religious and private schools passed last year with the support of out-of-state dark money.

The Arizona School Boards Association stands ready and willing to work with every policymaker who wants to put more and adequate resources into our public schools, and to help resolve these looming funding crises. This includes Gov. Doug Ducey and his current education funding proposal. However, we would be doing our membership, consisting of every school district in Arizona, a great disservice if we do not also continue the pursuit of a permanent, equitable funding system for our state’s most valuable asset – its public schools.

Timothy Ogle is executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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