Attorney: Judge has no authority to determine proper amount of money Arizona gives to schools | State-and-regional

PHOENIX — Saying challengers have no right to sue, lawyers for the state want a judge to throw out a challenge to the state’s school funding scheme.

In legal papers filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, attorney Brett Johnson does not directly address the contention by education officials, taxpayers and others that the lack of cash from the governor and Legislature has left schools with hundreds of millions of dollars of unmet construction, maintenance and equipment needs.

Instead, Johnson is telling Judge Connie Contes she has no authority to decide if the state is providing enough money. He said whatever they decide to provide in cash is a “political question” beyond the powers of the courts.

“Whether and how much money can be paid out of the state treasury is clearly committed by our constitution to those acting in a legislative capacity,” he wrote.

If nothing else, Johnson said challengers can’t ask Contes to invalidate the school funding formula because there’s no evidence they actually made a funding request of the School Facilities Board which is in charge of doling out money.

But attorney Mary O’Grady, who represents those who sued earlier this year, said that argument proves that the Arizona Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1994 that the capital funding scheme in place at that time violated the requirements of the Arizona Constitution for the state to provide a “general and uniform” school system. The high court reaffirmed that in two subsequent decisions.

More to the point, she said, the justices concluded that courts did have the authority to make that decision.

O’Grady also disputes that the challengers have to first be denied the funding by the School Facilities before they can ask Contes to intercede. Anyway, she said, it’s not like that would do any good, pointing out that the board has no authority to actually appropriate needed cash.

“It simply distributes the funds the Legislature has given it,” O’Grady wrote, an amount that fell “far below” what’s needed. In fact, the total appropriation this year was less than $16 million, compared with the approximately $300 million a year that challengers say is needed.

Attorney Tim Hogan, who also represents those who sued, put it another way.

“The School Facilities Board does not have the power or authority to deal with the shortcomings of…

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