Arizona Supreme Court restores public schools funding

students in classThe Arizona Supreme Court issued a decision this week that will require the Arizona Legislature to fully fund the base level of education funding. The Legislature will now increase the base level of education funding adjusted for inflation.

The Arizona Supreme Court held that through a ballot proposition or referendum, the voters could constitutionally direct the legislature to annually increase the base level for K-12 public school funding. The Court held that the funding plan created in Proposition 301 is protected by the Voter Protection Act (VPA) in the Arizona Constitution, so the Arizona legislature could not constitutionally disregard the statutory directive to increase the base level funding.

Justice Pelander wrote on behalf of the unanimous court, “We reject the state’s argument because its premise is flawed; it is based solely on pre-VPA case law, and it fails to give meaning to the VPA.”

The decision emphasized that the voters and the legislature share lawmaking power in Arizona, but the Voter Protection Act limits the legislature’s power to modify voter initiatives and referenda. The Court specifically affirmed that while one legislature cannot restrict the lawmaking powers of future legislatures, the Arizona Constitution allows the voters to restrict the powers of future legislatures. Thus, the legislature’s failure to adjust for inflation all of the components of the base level funding for the revenue control limit violated the Voter Protection Act.

“The state does not cite any state or federal constitutional provision that restricts the voters’ authority as the State posits,” Pelander wrote, finding that because the budget measure did not include full inflation adjustment as required by statute, it “violated the VPA’s express limitations on legislative changes to voter-approved laws.”

The Dept of Education said in a statement released after the ruling, it is “the ruling we were expecting. Schools already received this funding for FY14. The budget passed by the Legislature last year included a full inflation adjustment totaling $90.4 million.”

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