Items of Interest
Open the document below to see a detailed report on what legal actions the AEA has been taking on your behalf! Here's a summary!
AEA and a coalition of education groups challenged the legislature’s willful refusal to adjust the "base level" of education funding for inflation, despite the clear intent of the voter-approved Proposition 301 and the Voter Protection provisions of the Arizona Constitution. On February 11, 2012, Judge Mangum ruled against us, but we appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. On January 15, 2013, the Court of Appeals overturned the superior court decision and ordered the legislature to fully fund the entire base level, but the State appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.
On September 26, 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that in Proposition 301, the voters constitutionally directed the legislature to annually adjust all components of the base level for K-12 public school funding for inflation. Thus, the legislature’s failure to adjust the base level funding for inflation violated the Voter Protection Act. The decision emphasized that the Voter Protection Act limits the legislature’s power to modify voter initiatives and referenda. Then the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Superior Court for a judgment implementing its decision.
Instead of properly funding public education, the State of Arizona argued that it did not have to adjust the base level to account for the years that it willfully violated the law. On July 11, 2014, the Judge Cooper disagreed and held that the State must reset the base levels for fiscal years 2009 through 2014 to $3,559.62 for 2013-14 to account for the years the state did not adjust for inflation as the law required. This "reset" represents about $317 million in additional funding for public schools. Judge Cooper also ordered an evidentiary hearing on whether the state should be required to pay the money it did not pay over the preceding 5 year while it violated the law. That 5 day hearing on the back pay began on October 27, 2014, and we are waiting for a decision on the back pay by the Superior Court.
Meanwhile, the State tried to delay their deadline to appeal the base level rest decision. Fortunately, the Court disagreed with the State, and on August 21, 2014, the Judge issued a final decision resetting the base level, thus infusing our schools with an additional $317 million for the 14-15 year alone. This base level reset decision represents a permanent increase to the base level funding that will be adjusted by inflation in future years.
After this decision, Arizona had to fund the base level at that higher amount, unless it obtained a stay or had the judgment reversed on appeal. However, instead of funding education as required by law, the State continued its delay tactics by trying to stay the base level reset decision in both the Superior Court and then again in the Court of Appeals. After the briefing on the base level reset issue, the Court of Appeals will likely issue a decision mid to late 2015.
Throughout this litigation, AEA and its coalition partners have tried to resolve this in a manner that funds our schools without additional costly and time consuming litigation. Most recently, AEA and its coalition partners offered to settle both issues by waiving the back pay if the state agrees to reset the base level as ordered by the judge. As it did with our prior settlement attempts, the state continues to ignore this generous offer, so AEA and its coalition partners remain dedicated to preserving education funding as mandated by the Arizona voters.
AEA was part of a coalition challenging House Bill 2014, which allowed up to 10% of state trust land proceeds to be used for the administrative costs of running the State Land Department, even though the state trust land sales are constitutionally required to support Arizona public schools. We won at the superior court and the Court of Appeals, but pending our victories, the State was allowed to spend trust money to pay for the Land Department’s administrative costs, thus depriving public education of millions of dollars. On January 2, 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed our victory, and the state no longer unconstitutionally diverts trust proceeds to fund the Land Department’s administrative costs.
When the Secretary of State wrongly attempted to prevent Proposition 204 from appearing on the ballot, AEA filed an amicus brief on behalf of the volunteer signature gatherers urging the court to place Proposition 204 on the ballot. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in our favor, and Proposition 204 was placed on the 2012 ballot.
AEA led a coalition of public union members challenging S.B. 1614’s increase of the employee contribution to the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS). S.B. 1614 increased the employee contribution from 50 to 53 percent and decreased the employer contribution from 50 to 47 percent of the total cost for the retirement benefit. Our lawsuit claimed that S.B. 1614 violated the Arizona Constitution and contract law for the active participants in ASRS. Basically, over 200,000 active participants in ASRS accepted employment knowing they would pay for half the cost of their retirement, and S.B. 1614 wrongly changed the terms of those existing employment contracts. AEA filed its complaint in July 2011, and on February 3, 2012, Superior Court Judge Willett granted our Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that the shift in the contribution rates violated the Arizona Constitution. The lawsuit stopped the wrongful deductions from your paychecks, and the work of AEA government relations returned the wrongfully withheld contributions to you by the fall of 2012.
The Arizona Education Association (AEA) led a coalition of public employee unions in challenging S.B. 1365’s limits on payroll deductions for political purposes. Under S.B. 1365, if a union wanted to use payroll deduction for dues, it had to guess in advance how much of its dues would fund “political purposes,” but if it were to guess incorrectly, then the union faced a $10,000 penalty per violation. If this was not bad enough, S.B. 1365 exempted public safety unions from its onerous requirements. On September 23, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Snow granted our motion for a preliminary injunction because S.B. 1365 amounted to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Then, on April 1, 2013, Judge Snow granted our motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoined S.B. 1365. Despite this tremendous victory, AEA is utilizing several different methods for dues payments, so the legislature can never again threaten to silence your voice.
In 2009, in the AEA funded Cain v. Horne, the Arizona Supreme Court held that vouchers violated both the Arizona Constitution’s mandate to provide a public education and its prohibition against diverting public funds to private schools. In 2011, to circumvent the Cain decision, the Legislature enacted S.B. 1553, which deposits public funds into an account managed by the parents of a qualified child, in exchange for the parent removing the child from the public education system. The parents can then use that money to pay for the child’s private curriculum, tuition, fees, services, and books. On September 26, 2011, AEA and a coalition of education groups filed a lawsuit asking to enjoin S.B. 1553, but on October of 2013, the Court of Appeals ruled that the voucher program was constitutional because parents could choose to spend the money on other options in addition to private school tuition. The Court also found that the vouchers did not unconstitutionally prefer one religion over another reason because any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. Unfortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to review this decision, so the Court of Appeals decision upholding the new voucher scheme is final, despite its use of public dollars for private education without any accountability. Because these vouchers siphon money away from public education without any accountability, AEA will continue its effort to limit the expansion of this voucher scheme in the legislative forum.
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