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Arizona judge orders 'inflation funding' for schools

An Arizona judge has ordered the state to raise school funding to meet inflation, in keeping with a voter-approved measure passed in 2000, a move that many see as a budget buster.

The judge's decision was complicated, parsing funding formulas and the intent of the voter-approved statute. But the bottom line is that the state had argued that increases in base level spending should be counted toward the inflation requirements under the law. The judge rejected those arguments.

The fiscal implications for the state could be devastating, according to Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, as reported in AZfamily.com. "Left to stand, this judicially imposed spending will have a disastrous impact on our state's public safety and vulnerable populations, since funding for the court mandate must come at the expense of these vitally important programs," Wilder said.

In a statement, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal praised the decision, according to the Associated Press. "Today's ruling in favor of restoring funding for Arizona schools honors what voters approved in 2000," Huppenthal said. "Our public schools were hit especially hard by the recession and I look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to implement this decision. When these funds become available, I strongly encourage school governing boards to take a thoughtful and deliberative look at how to best allocate the funding to ensure the investment made by Arizona taxpayers directly impacts student academic success and provides more Arizona children a world-class education."

"Granted the state faces many financial needs and challenges," Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper wrote in her order. "However, it is not for this court to say how a judgment is satisfied, not to question the practicality or wisdom of the law that the Legislature wrote and voters enacted."

At least $317 million in additional state funding for inflation has been ordered this year, with later hearings pending that could raise the total to $2.9 billion over five years. The current total state budget is $9.2 billion.

"First, the tax dollars placed in the base level were not added to adjust for inflation," Cooper wrote. "Voters approved this money be raised and spent to provide more days of education for students. It is disingenuous for the State to argue that, in correcting the current base level, money for additional fixed expenses should not be adjusted and/or should count toward the State’s required inflation adjustment. Second, more school days means increased recurring costs for school districts. These are the kind of costs that the base level is intended to address."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com