Judge hands Arizona public schools $317 Million court ruling

CBS 5 Arizona
Friday, July 11, 2014
Jason Barry

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It's a major victory for Arizona's public school system, which has taken some major financial hits over the past few years.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Arizona schools are owed $317 million in funding for the upcoming budget year, because of the state legislature's failure to properly fund education.

Chris Maza is an administrator with the Paradise Valley School District.

"I'm excited because our schools can finally dedicate their attention to what it is they need to be doing, which is supporting our students, instead of taking a look at how to put a band-aid on cuts," said Maza.

The court determined that the state legislature failed to honor the will of Arizona voters in 2000, when they approved Prop 301.

The ballot measure called for annual inflation adjustments to fund public education.

Lawmakers froze those adjustments during the recession, from 2009-2013, then resumed them in 2014.

However, lawmakers did not provide money to make up for what was lost over those four years.

Kevin McCarthy is executive director of the Arizona Tax Research Association, a watch dog group, that pays close attention to the state budget.

McCarthy said Friday's court ruling will lead to a lot of scrambling at the state capitol, as lawmakers try to figure out pay for the increase in education funding.

"The fallout associated with this is going to be dramatic under any scenario," said McCarthy. "Whether it's cuts to other state agencies that are certain to occur, or tax increases, or a combination of both, the money has to come from somewhere."

The Governor is expected to call a special session, so lawmakers can sort out where the money will come from.

Another court hearing will take place to determine if schools should get money retroactively, which could bump up the amount of court mandated funding to almost $3 billion over the next five years.

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