Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Facts Behind the Arizona School Finance Case

Arizona schools are currently suing the state for unpaid bills. The case goes like this:

In 2000, the voters passed a referendum that mandates regular increases in state funding to account for inflation.

For several years around the Great Recession, the Legislature cut funds and ignored the inflation mandate.

The schools claim that the Legislature is $1 billion in arrears.

The matter will be settled in a Phoenix courtroom.

In, interviews for television, lawyers for the state hold out the frightening prospect that an unfavorable decision from their perspective might actually result in a INCREASE IN TAXES! To bolster their position, they claim that avoiding a tax increase would necessitate a reduction in services, for example, the Legislature would have to cut the budget of Child Protective Services (an agency that was recently discovered to have not followed up on more than 6,000 reported incidences of child neglect and abuse).

The schools position is that "a law is a law" even if instituted by a referendum; and, anyway, doesn't everyone know that Arizona K-12 schools are horribly underfunded and have been for decades? Actually, the claim of poverty for K-12 education in Arizona is a bit of an exaggeration. The state is highly "urbanized" — in fact, one of the most urbanized in the U.S. because a very high percentage of the population lives in two metropolitan areas (Phoenix & Tucson). This results in a dearth of small rural schools that suffer "economic inefficiencies of small scale."

So the funding of K-12 education in Arizona is not nearly as bad as people think, nor is the state's economy in such bad shape that it can't afford to meet its legal obligations.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.