Surrounded by legislators and public education advocates, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed three bills the Arizona Legislature approved earlier Friday afternoon that would add $3.5 billion to K-12 public education and settle a five-year-old inflation funding lawsuit filed by schools that didn’t receive that money during the Great Recession.
“In January, I called for an end to the lawsuit in my State of the State. At times this year, I thought that was an impossibility, but because of the individuals on this stage, it happened,” Ducey said at the press conference where he signed the bills. “Together we’re sending a strong message about the value of public education in our state.”
“To our teachers, we know your worth. We have immense respect and regard for the work you do for our kids, our schools, and our communities. With this plan, you will have the resources you are asking for,” Ducey said.
At the signing, House Speaker David Gowan said legislators began working toward this in November of last year. Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs, said “This is what happens when we all set aside some of our own agendas to try to get to the best possible solution.”
“It’s difficult anytime you take on a complex issue like this and you try to balance the immediate needs of over a million students in our public schools and at the same time try to preserve security for the future,” said Andrew F. Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, one of the plaintiffs, at the signing. “That led to difficult moments, but a good outcome.”
“This is the settlement of one questions in a state with a lot of questions that we still face about public education,” Morrill said. “The lesson here is that when you bring the right people together, committed to a resolution, you will not find perfection, but you will find the answers that you need. Lets let that be the lesson as we go forward to tackle the other questions.”
Video: Gov. Doug Ducey Signs the Bill Package
Video by Heidi Vega/Arizona School Boards Association
David Lewis, executive director of Arizona Association of Business Officials, said “As we’re talking about moving education forward, we know the importance of economic development and for us to have a great education system here in Arizona so businesses will move here, so businesses will be happy to have their employees’ families moving here and we can capitalize on that together.”
Later that afternoon, Dr. Debbi Burdick, superintendent of Cave Creek Unified School District,sent an email to students’ parents and community members. Cave Creek Unified was lead plaintiff in the inflation funding lawsuit.
“Although the Legislature and Governor have approved this, there is no money attached to it unless the voters in AZ would approve it in an election next May,” Burdick said. “In addition, it is only a beginning. We are hopeful that the state government will continue to increase spending to where it should be.”
Ducey said a well-funded, organized campaign to let Arizonans’ know how important a yes vote is to Arizona’s future, children and teachers and the state’s future will be led by Sharon Harper, president and CEO of Plaza Companies, Ducey said.
“Now it’s up to the voters to do their part and approve the legislators actions by voting yes for our schools, yes for our teachers, yes for our children on the May 17, 2016 special election ballot ” Harper said.
Video: ASBA Executive Director Dr. Tim Ogle Speaks at the Bill Signing
Video by Heidi Vega/Arizona School Boards Association
Comments after Legislative approval
Soon after the Arizona Legislature approved the three bills, the Arizona School Boards Association, one of the plaintiffs in the inflation funding lawsuit, released this statement:
“Today we were able to overcome a major hurdle in finding a resolution to the five years of litigation and resolve Cave Creek v. DeWit, the K-12 inflation funding lawsuit filed in 2010. Compromise can be tough. At this critical time in our history, continuing to seek legal remedies with the inherent risks no longer serves the immediate needs of our students. We can’t begin to solve the bigger educational issues in Arizona without getting past the inflation lawsuit.”
“In seeing the big picture, we now must pivot and focus not only on the importance of the bond and override elections next week, but also by recognizing this is just the beginning of trying to correct the educational challenges of our schools caused by the lack of state financial support.”
“The ASBA staff and board have been steady advocates to ensure adequate funding was restored to support our one million students and thousands of teachers in all public school districts across Arizona. Now it is time for us to re-focus all of our efforts on the challenges we face in creating the type of education our students deserve.”
The Arizona Association of School Business Officials also released a statement that said:
“Arizona’s schools are facing and continue to face, a funding crisis that is dramatically impacting our ability to properly maintain an acceptable school environment and provide some relief for the teacher shortage that is negatively impacting classroom instruction. Given this, AABO and its plaintiff partners are moving forward with the inflation funding lawsuit settlement, driven by the shared belief that our students and teachers across the state need this money now. It is important to keep in mind we don’t believe this is in any way a long-term solution to the problems of education funding in Arizona. It is a settlement of a lawsuit that began in 2008 to restore the base level and inflation funding.”
The Arizona House passed three bills Thursday night that would settle the inflation funding lawsuit, and the House met Friday morning and also approved the bills, according to The Associated Press.
Arizona legislators were summoned to the Capitol at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday for a special session to consider the agreement to provide Arizona public schools with a portion of court-ordered funding in the inflation funding lawsuit.
The funding, which would provide $3.5 billion over the next decade, would require approval by Arizona voters in a special election, which would be held May 17, 2016. If the measure is approved by voters, then schools would receive the additional funds after the election.
Legislative leaders confirmed Friday that a special session was imminent, and education groups on Monday confirmed a tentative agreement had been reached.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said, “Working together with legislative and education leaders, we’ve built a winning plan that gives educators the resources they’ve been asking for and sends a strong message about the value of education in Arizona.”
Dr. Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said settlement of the lawsuit is a step in the right direction.
In a video released to school board members and superintendents around the state on Wednesday evening, Ogle said, “This is money that actually has been due to schools since 2008, and so it brings schools back to the neutral position. So it is not a replacement for bonds and overrides. It’s not a replacement for any local support that districts get.”
Plaintiffs in the inflation funding lawsuit released a statement Tuesday detailing the key elements of the agreement that said the settlement deal meets the plaintiffs’ intent to, at a minimum, “stabilize and sustain funding.”
If the proposal is approved by the Legislature but not by voters in May, the legal process to resolve the lawsuit would resume.
The plaintiffs in in Cave Creek v. DeWit – a coalition of five school districts, Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, and Arizona Association of School Business Officials – sued the state in 2010 to force the Legislature to comply with the inflation funding mandate established when voters approved Proposition 301 in 2000. Settlement discussions in the case have been going on since February 2015 over state funding that the Arizona Supreme Court last year ruled is owed to Arizona public schools.
Video: Key elements of agreement for K-12 inflation funding lawsuit
The key elements of the funding proposal are:
- An increase in per student base level funding to $3,600, an increase of $173 for each student, which is 72 percent of what the courts ruled at the appellate level – and what the plaintiffs demanded. Within two years, the base level will reach the full amount the court ordered.
- Inflation language to continue as it currently exists (2 percent or the rate of inflation whichever is less) with compounding in perpetuity.
- Additional funds, in consideration of back pay, to be distributed annually:
- $50 million per year for the first five years
- $75 million per year for the second five years
- This will account for 50 percent of what the courts identified was owed in back pay.
- No policy strings or specific requirements will be placed on how the money should be spent.
- Contingencies to account for a severe downturn in the state economy.
Infographic by Heidi Vega/Arizona School Boards Association
Click here for a JPEG of the infographic.
Arizona Business & Education Coalition’s President and CEO Dick Foreman said, “ABEC carefully and thoughtfully reviewed concerns that were raised, and appreciates those concerns, but believes that the benefits offered by the compromises the Governor has made to his original plan are worthy changes that on balance merit our full support.”
“Secondly, ABEC supports the inflation lawsuit compromise that must also go before Arizona voters. While some may find fault in any negotiated settlement, ABEC thanks the Governor for his leadership that has earned legislative majority support and hopefully, fair consideration from all members who wish to see this issue resolved for the benefit of Arizona’s public school children.”
Arizona Education Association President Andrew F. Morrill said “Improving our public schools and doing what’s best for our students has always been our goal and this is a first step in a larger education funding conversation at the state level. This settlement only resolves the failure to fund inflation. We still need to restore the massive cuts to schools made during the recession.”
“Settling the lawsuit allows our state to focus on restoring funding to other portions of the education budget, including full-day kindergarten, JTED programs, and district additional assistance for textbooks, curriculum, technology, and building repairs,” Morrill said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said in a statement on Tuesday that she was pleased to hear that an agreement has been reached and reports of a special session.
“I strongly support the decision makers who have come together to address the need for increased education funding, including Gov. Ducey and leadership at the Legislature,” said Superintendent Douglas. “I am excited and pleasantly surprised to hear that the plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit were able to reach a compromise that will result in immediate new funds for our schools.”
School districts around the state are commenting on the deal. Peoria Unified School District released a statement supporting the agreement, but noted this funding is not a replacement for additional future funding or local voter approved initiatives, such as bond authorizations and budget overrides, which directly support capital projects and programs throughout the district.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews, statement by Peoria Unified School District
Click here for a JPG of this infographic.
“While I’m very proud of what we’re doing, let me just share with you that since 2007, we’ve taken $3.5 billion out of education,” Roig said. “So at the end of the next 10 years, we will be where we were in 2007.”
Roig asked business and education leaders attending College Success Arizona’s Leaders & Legends luncheon to support the deal, and “remind our legislators that this is only the first step.”
Roig noted that Arizona seems to be striving to rise from 48th in the nation in education to the middle – the U.S. average.
“I don’t want to be 25th. I want to be first,” Roig said. “We need to make sure that we put the right things together in Arizona to make it happen. We need you to make sure that happens as well.”
Business groups have also expressed support for the deal.
“The Arizona Technology Council supports these efforts because a strong education system is extremely important to our member companies when it comes to attracting qualified workers into the state, growing their businesses and raising their families,” said Steven Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council. “This increased investment helps to make Arizona more competitive.”