Ariz. schools ask judge for $1.7 billion in back funding

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- Attorneys for Arizona schools will ask a judge Friday to require the state to pay about $1.3 billion over the coming five years to make up for what the Legislature failed to provide for K-12 education since the budget crunch of 2009, plus an additional $1.6 billion in new school funding over the same period.

Lawyers for the Legislature are fighting the request. They plan to argue at a hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court that a September ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court doesn't require repayment of money that schools should have received in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. They also say courts can't order the state treasurer to pay out money not authorized by the Legislature and governor.

The Supreme Court decision said Arizona voters required annual inflation adjustments to school funding when they passed Proposition 301 in 2000. The proposition raised the state sales tax by 0.6 percent to fund schools.

The law said it would apply to base funding, transportation costs and other special funds.

The Legislature stopped adding to the base funding during the Great Recession and resumed the increases last year, but they started at the level that had been in place before the Legislature froze the increases.

Attorneys for school districts, a public interest advocacy group and the Arizona School Boards Association want that funding level increased going forward to what it would have been if the Legislature properly funded the inflation figures. State analysts say that will cost $317 million in the coming year alone and $1.6 billion over five years.

They also want nearly $1.3 million in back payments to be paid out over the five years beginning in fiscal year 2015, which works out to nearly $253 million a year.

Lawyers for the state want no retroactive payments and no resetting of the basic school aid formula.

A declaration from Gov. Jan Brewer's budget director, John Arnold, said that would blow a hole in the state's budget and force cuts to other programs. General fund spending for the 2015 budget year that begins July 1 is set at $9.23 billion.

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