Arizona Parents Challenge School Funding

     PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona’s public school funding formulas discriminate against schools in poor areas and public charter schools, parents claim in two lawsuits in Maricopa County Court. Both complaints seek an order stopping the state from using its present funding system and declaratory judgment that the Arizona Constitution requires the state “to finance education in public schools in a nondiscriminatory manner.”

     Public school budgets are determined in part by student enrollment. While public schools are entitled to additional funding for transportation and construction, get “revenue streams” from property taxes and may levy primary taxes and voter-approved overrides, public charter schools cannot.
     The complaint filed by parents of charter school students claims that the disparities place students at “a severe resource disadvantage.”
     Charter schools often “must share facilities or use public playgrounds or parks,” the parents say.
     Public school districts can spread costs across the district, but charter schools cannot and “must shoulder such costs and obligations by itself or forego them altogether,” the complaint states.
     The second lawsuit, filed by parents of public school students, claims that while public schools “have the ability to supplement state funding through taxing or override authority,” some districts’ voters may not approve a tax levy or override, causing some districts to receive less funding than others.
     This claim alleges that a “low property wealth school district that approves a property tax increase … will raise significantly less total funds than a high-wealth district that garners approval for a tax increase at the same rate.” This places school districts in wealthier neighborhoods at an advantage to poor districts, the parents claim.
     This claim has been at the heart of school funding complaints across the nation. Residents of poor neighborhoods have repeatedly cited statistics to show that higher school-tax rates in poor areas raise less money than lower tax rates in rich areas, resulting in inequitable schools. The results were devastatingly portrayed in Jonathan Kozol’s 1991 book, “Savage Inequalities.”
     Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and the State Board of Education are also named as defendants in both complaints.
     Plaintiffs in both lawsuits are represented by J. Grant Woods.

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