Arizona’s financially strapped schools won a victory in the Arizona Court of Appeals, but Payson’s school administration isn’t holding its breath since the attorney general will appeal the decision.
Arizona’s appellate court ruled to uphold the will of the voters, who in 2000 passed Proposition 301 — written by the Legislature at the time and sold to the voters as a way to “lift Arizona up” after the state had fallen to 50th in school funding. The appellate court ruled in favor of the state’s schools, despite the protests of the current state Legislature.
“The court overturned the original decision … That’s good news, since it could mean dollars for education,” said Payson Unified School District Superintendent Ron Hitchcock. “But it is still way too early to start planning on that, because the court of appeals decision will now be appealed, and we go back into the waiting mode.”
The appellate court overturned a decision by lower Superior Court Judge John Mangum, who found that Proposition 301 could not be enforced.
Proposition 301 requires the Legislature to increase school funding to keep up with inflation until the year 2021. Mangum ruled voters could not dictate how the Legislature distributes funds.
The appellate court disagreed.
In writing the appellate court’s decision, Judge Michael Brown said that by refusing to fund the inflationary increase, the Legislature violated the 1998 Voter Protection Act.
“A review of the background, purpose and implementation of Proposition 301 leads us to conclude that requiring the Legislature to increase all components of the revenue control limit is necessary because a contrary holding would contradict the intent of the Legislature that drafted the provision and the voters who approved it,” wrote Brown.
School districts filed the case in response to the Legislature picking and choosing where to increase funding as inflation increased, and in 2011 not funding any inflationary increases at all.
In 2010, the only inflationary adjustment the Legislature made to the education budget was for transportation.
The following year, the Legislature refused to pay any inflationary increases whatsoever.
The appellate court ruled that the Legislature might not flaunt the will of the voters and the intent of the Voter Protection Act.
Hitchcock has decided to hold onto his streamers and party hats until all appeals are over.
“For us as a district, the time to get energized is after all appeals have been heard, and there is a court order for the state to restore funding,” he said. “Then we see if they added the money for retroactive interest, but [that would be taking] funding away from another area, and simply could turn it into another zero-sum game for districts.
“Avoids this sort of gamesmanship in the future? Hopefully.”