/ Modified oct 28, 2015 8:59 a.m.

Questions Arise About Education Funding Plan

Proposal would settle long-standing lawsuit, with legislative approval.

Arizona State Legislature SPOT Members of the Arizona state Legislature meet at the Senate Building.
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A plan that would immediately boost Arizona school funding by $249 million is expected to go a vote soon, with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey preparing to call a special legislative session this week.

The plan worked out by the governor, Republican legislative leaders and representatives of public schools is drawing fire from several camps, including state Treasurer Jeff DeWit.

DeWit said in an email to legislators Tuesday that if they approve the plan to include a higher draw on the state Land Trust Fund, it will be illegal and lead to lawsuits that will tie up the funding for years.

The plan is the result of negotiations to settle a lawsuit over back payments owed to the state’s K-12 schools. It would include a proposal to increase the payout from the Land Trust Fund, something voters would have to approve.

Part of the funding increase is expected to help settle a lawsuit by school districts over lack of voter-required inflation funding totaling $331 million.

Lawyer Tim Hogan, who helped bring that suit, said some of the details of the legislative plan are “inconsistent” with what he thought was in the agreement reached between the governor’s office and the schools.

“There is a trigger, in some of the reports I’ve seen, that would relieve the Legislature from funding the agreement if the balance in the trust is less than the year before and that just wasn’t a topic of discussion,” said Hogan.

The Republican plan to give more funding to schools also has triggers tied to the percentage of the general fund budget that education accounts for and another tied to the health of the economy.

Rep. Juan Mendez, a Democrat from Tempe, was critical of that provision.

“I never really thought our investment in education was a promise based on the economy,” Mendez said.

Hogan said he is not ready to condemn the entire plan. He said state lawmakers still must vote on a final plan and he said he hoped when that happens some of the details will be worked out.

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