Arizona Education Association

Summer 2017

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14 ADVOCATE | SUMMER 2017 at the capitol Attorneys Tim Hogan from the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest and Mary R. O'Grady from Osborn Maledon represent the plaintiffs. "The legislature's finance system is unconstitutional, because it is not general and uniform as required by article 11 section 1 of the Arizona constitution," Hogan said at the press conference. The state is required to provide the funding for all schools, buildings, facilities and equipment to meet minimum adequacy standards, and "the state is no longer doing that," Hogan said. "As a result we have many school districts, some of which are represented here today, who have buildings and facilities that fail to meet the minimum adequacy standards established by the state almost 20 years ago," Hogan said. "We also have school districts, also represented in this group, who have asked their taxpayers to approve bond issuances to take care of problems within their school districts, and so as a result we've got individual taxpayers now paying for things to correct school facilities that the state should be paying for," Hogan said. As state funding for Arizona's K-12 public schools has declined from 49 percent in 2006 to 39 percent in 2016, local funding has become increasingly critical for schools. These cuts in capital funding, which the state calls district additional assistance, have been one of the main factors in many school district's decisions to seek more local funding by putting bonds and overrides on the ballot. This year, 20 percent of Arizona's 223 public school districts had bond or override measures on the ballot because of declining state funding that has made it difficult for districts to maintain class sizes, increase teacher salaries and upgrade technology to meet state testing needs. Along with the cuts to capital funding, the Arizona Legislature has also significantly reduced money for building of new schools and major school repairs through the School Facilities Board, passing these costs along to school districts who often must ask for funding for these needs from local taxpayers through bond elections. "We're at 1993 funding levels in terms of capital, and in the current budget from the governor's office there's no district additional assistance," said Dr. Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators. "So we've really after 25 years been left with no real alternative, I think, but putting some pressure on, which we hope maybe will result in a change of heart." Jill Barragan, who lives in Laveen, said she's tired of the cuts to capital funding. "I have a son who's a sophomore in high school and hasn't been fully funded since first grade, and I have a daughter in second grade and she's never been fully funded," Jill Barragan said. Kathy Knecht, a Peoria resident and former president of the board of directors of Arizona School Boards Association, said she often hears local residents ask why their property taxes are increasing. "Our state has an obligation to maintain and keep our schools' quality, and they're not doing it," said Knecht, who plans to run against Sen. Debbie Lesko in the next election. "We're worried as homeowners as taxpayers. Funding has been cut. We want to provide quality schools for our kids, for our neighborhoods and for our property values so we keep being asked as local taxpayers to maintain that when really the obligation is with the state." Crane Elementary Superintendent Robert Klee said, "If you look at any of the national polls or surveys, Arizona is consistently in the bottom for funding for public education. These kids are our future. We not only have a constitutional obligation, we have an ethical obligation, to provide the very best education we can, and we're not doing it right now." "It's time for us to pay it forward. Previous generations paid it forward for us," Klee said. "We all have good jobs, and now it's time for us to man up and pay it forward." "It's not as if the state does not know how to do this correctly," Hogan said at the press conference. "When we filed litigation originally about this issue in 1991 and won a supreme court decision in 1994, the state, ultimately, in active legislation in 1998 called Students FIRST provided a number of funding sources for school districts to take care of their buildings and facilities issues. They spent $1.2 billion to bring all schools and buildings up to standards at that time, and then provided funding on an ongoing basis for school districts to maintain those buildings and facilities at minimum standards." "One of those sources of funding was the building renewal formula," Hogan said. "That was intended to provide funding to school districts to take care of major renovations and the other was soft capital, which provided funding on an annual basis for school districts so they could fund short-term capital items like textbooks and technology." "The building renewal formula, which provided the bulk of the funding, was only fully funded in one year after Students First was enacted," Hogan said. "And in 2008, the state stopped funding it completely, and then in 2013, repealed the building renewal formula." The soft capital funding for shorter term capital items was funded up until 2013, when the state took capital outlay funding, cut it in half and renamed it district additional assistance, Hogan said. "Were those funding sources in effect today, it would provide approximately $300 million annually to school districts to address their capital needs as far as their buildings and facilities go," Hogan said. Hogan noted that the way school finance is structured today state funding is all Maintenance and Operations school budget money and if school districts use any of that for capital needs it impacts their school operations – class sizes, teacher pay and many other important items. "As a result we have some school districts dipping into that M&O to take care of some very serious problems and that impacts students," Hogan said. Hogan noted school districts are "in exactly the same position we were in in 1991 when we originally filed this lawsuit." "That's an unfair system to schools, it's unfair to students and it's unfair to taxpayers," Hogan said. n

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