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School Officials and State Lawmakers Clash in School Funding Impasse

Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer

School officials on Monday warned warning state lawmakers that if they don’t take a deal to settle the inflation adjustment lawsuit — and soon — taxpayers could be on the hook for another $1.3 billion. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that for several years legislators illegally ignored a law requiring them to boost state aid to schools each year to account for inflation. They then sent the case to a trial judge to figure out how much is owed. That judge, Katherine Cooper, ordered them to boost funding by $317 million this year and beyond. But, she held off until next month whether the state owes $1.3 billion withheld in the past. Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said his group has offered to drop that $1.3 billion demand if the state stops fighting the order to boost current funding.

“Those have never been acknowledged by state leaders. And as we approach that hearing, that window of opportunity to resolve this is closing very rapidly,” Ogle said.

But, Senate President Andy Biggs said he’s not interested.

“We’re in such an interesting financial state of things that even if they were to say that, whatever it is, pay X amount, over $300 million, $400 million, whatever their number is over this many years, we still can’t afford to pay it,” Biggs said.

And, Biggs said he still believes the state can eventually get a ruling that schools are owed no more than lawmakers are providing them now.

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