Arizona school districts plan to sue Legislature over building cash
PHOENIX — A group of Arizona school districts and several school groups announced Friday they plan to sue the Legislature over cuts to funding for public school buildings and maintenance.
The Arizona School Boards Association called a news conference for Monday to provide details of the lawsuit. It is is expected to seek at least hundreds of millions of dollars for schools that the Legislature has not funded since the Great Recession.
Attorneys have been working on the lawsuit for at least two years. Several school boards have voted to sign on as plaintiffs, as have the associations representing teachers, school administrators and business officials.
The suit targets cuts to dedicated capitol accounts that were created to comply with a 1990-era court ruling.
The lawsuit comes nearly a year after voters approved a plan to settle another multi-billion dollar school funding lawsuit by tapping the state’s land trust.
Proposition 123 adds $3.5 billion in spending over 10 years to settle a lawsuit, but doesn’t address cuts to capital projects that the state is required to fund. That pot of money is used to fund operating costs.
The new lawsuit will target capital costs. The state was sued in 1991 for failing to properly fund buildings and “soft capital” costs like books and computers. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the state must provide the funding to ensure all school districts provide proper facilities.
The state paid up, providing $1.3 billion in back money and up to $400 million a year going forward for capital expenses. But the state has repeatedly failed to fund the School Facilities Board, leading to a shortfall of up to $2 billion.
Gov. Doug Ducey is proposing to provide about $17 million to the board in the coming budget year, while the House of Representatives is proposing to spend $63 million.
Budget talks between the Legislature and Ducey’s staff have been ongoing for weeks, with no breakthrough in sight on the key point of contention, a $1 billion university bonding plan.
Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Friday that he would wait until the suit is filed and analyzed before commenting on the case.
“Our focus right now is on passing the budget, which will include additional K-12 dollars, including for capitol and construction,” he said. “We want to get as many dollars as possible to K-12 education without raising taxes.”