Frustrated by years of severe state disinvestment in their public schools, Arizona voters passed a ballot initiative in 2020 to provide a sorely needed, long overdue boost in public school funding, Proposition 208. But the ballots for this initiative had hardly been counted when Republican lawmakers, anti-tax advocates and select business interests sued to stop the infusion of additional dollars into one of the worst funded public school systems in the nation.
Advocates for Arizona’s public schools support Prop. 208. The Invest in Education coalition is mounting a strong defense of Prop. 208, called the Invest in Education Act. And they now have the support of Education Law Center (ELC), Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS Arizona) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The organizations have filed an amici curiae or “friend of the court” brief urging the Arizona Supreme Court not to block the Act and to allow the funding increase to move forward.
The amicus brief points out how Arizona’s woefully inadequate school funding has had a devastating impact on students’ opportunity to achieve academic success. The brief shows that Arizona suffers from a persistent and significant teacher shortage, has the worst student to counselor ratio in the nation at 905 to 1, and has among the country’s highest average class sizes.
According to ELC’s recent Making the Grade report, Arizona’s cost-adjusted per-pupil funding level is lower than all other states and the District of Columbia, at $5,503 per pupil, which is 38% below the national average. Arizona also ranks 50th in fiscal effort to fund public education because the State Legislature had chosen to invest only 2.23% of its Gross Domestic Product in public schools.
Compounding this dismal condition is Arizona’s failure to restore funding cuts made in response to the 2008 Great Recession. According to another recent ELC analysis, $600 Billion Lost: State Disinvestment in Education Following the Great Recession, the state’s funding effort dropped 30% from 2008-18, and its ranking relative to other states plummeted from 41st to 50th. Arizona public school students lost $3.4 billion in school funding over the decade. At the same time, the percentage of Arizona public school children from low-income families climbed 10 percentage points, to 55%.
“For years, Arizonans have made clear, through opinion polling and ballot measures, their strong support for increasing school funding as well as stopping the diversion of public funding to private school vouchers,” said Beth Lewis, Co-Director of SOS Arizona. “The Invest in Education Act is voters’ latest expression of the incredibly urgent need for better-resourced public schools.”
“We have stepped up to support the Invest in Education Act because it is critical to improve the dire state of school funding in Arizona,” said Jessica Levin, ELC Senior Attorney. “Arizonans have voted to remedy the Legislature’s ongoing failure to fund the state’s public schools. We will do everything we can to prevent anti-tax and anti-public school forces from condemning even more generations of the state’s children to an inadequately resourced education.”
So far, the plaintiffs challenging the Act have sought a preliminary injunction to block it from taking effect, which the trial court denied. The plaintiffs then went to the Court of Appeals and sought to transfer the case to the Arizona Supreme Court. The transfer request was granted, and the appeal is now pending before Arizona’s highest court.
The brief filed by ELC, SOS Arizona, and the SPLC supports Prop. 208 and joins the defendants, the State of Arizona and Invest in Education, to urge the Arizona Supreme Court to uphold the trial court’s decision denying the injunction.
“The brief stresses that blocking the Invest in Education Act would not only subvert the will of Arizona voters,” said Christine Bischoff, senior staff attorney for the SPLC, “but it would also deprive Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students of the educational resources they desperately need to learn and thrive.”
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