Arizona judge delays trial in fight over education funding

U.S. Court Watch

A lawsuit over how much money Arizona’s lawmakers allocate for school maintenance, buses, textbooks and technology won’t go to trial next week, after a judge granted a request for a delay by the state’s incoming attorney general.

Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes said her office needs time to determine whether some or all of the claims can be resolved without a trial.

The trial was set to begin Monday. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dewain Fox approved Mayes’ request Friday and scheduled a status hearing for March 17, the Arizona Republic reported.

A group of school districts and associations representing school officials and teachers sued the state in 2017. They argued that the Legislature had shorted them billions of dollars in capital funding for more than a decade.

The lawsuit sought a declaration that Arizona’s school funding scheme was unconstitutional because it violated the “uniform and general” clause of the state Constitution. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that it is the state’s responsibility to provide cash for new schools, major maintenance and things like textbooks. The Legislature began cutting that spending during the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

Mayes has said in recent filings that the state will no longer argue that the capital funding system is beyond the purview of the courts or that districts need to prove that specific students didn’t receive an adequate education due to their school’s capital facilities.

Kim Martin, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said Friday that the case has already cost the state millions of dollars and the hope is that an agreement can be reached with the plaintiffs.

Attorney Danny Adelman is executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, which is helping litigate the case. He’s hopeful that incoming Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs can address some of the concerns through executive actions.

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