The public schools enroll 1,102,000 students: 44% Latino, 41% White, 5% African American, and 5% Native American, with 52% living in poverty, and 7% learning English. The State spends $7,495 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system, which system shall include: 1. Kindergarten schools. 2. Common schools. 3. High schools. 4. Normal schools. 5. Industrial schools. 6. Universities, which shall include an agricultural college, a school of mines, and such other technical schools as may be essential, until such time as it may be deemed advisable to establish separate state institutions of such character.” Ariz. Const. art. 11, §1(A).
“The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.” Ariz. Const. art. 11, § 6.
“No sectarian instruction shall be imparted in any school or state educational institution…and no religious or political test or qualification shall ever be required as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, as teacher, student, or pupil….” Ariz. Const. art. 11, § 7.
“The laws of the state shall enable cities and towns to maintain free high schools, industrial schools, and commercial schools. …the legislature shall make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions, and shall make such special appropriations as shall provide for their development and improvement.” Ariz. Const. art. 11, §§ 9 and 10.
In 1992, plaintiffs filed Flores v. State in federal court, claiming that the State was violating the federal Equal Educational Opportunity Act. The trial court ruled for plaintiffs and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court affirmed. But in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court, which granted defendants relief under a federal rule on “changed circumstances” and closed the case.
In 1994, in Roosevelt Elementary School District v. Bishop, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the State’s school facilities funding system under the State constitution’s “general and uniform” provision, holding that the facilities funding system must provide to all school districts the facilities and equipment necessary to offer all students the opportunity to master the State student learning standards. The Court also held that the State’s funding mechanism must not cause substantial disparities among districts.
In response, the State implemented a new funding system that improved school facilities and equipment in all districts.
In 2000, Arizona voters approved Proposition 301, which requires automatic inflation adjustments in the State’s base level aid to education, raising per-pupil funding yearly by the rate of inflation or two percent, whichever is less. In 2013, in Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey, the Arizona Supreme Court held that that the State must adjust its education funding for inflation, in accordance with Proposition 301. The Court sent the case back to the trial court for a remedial order, which is now on appeal in late 2016.
In Crane Elementary School District v. State, plaintiffs alleged that the State school funding system was unconstitutional because it failed to fund programs for “at-risk” students. The appellate court found that funding for these programs was not constitutionally required to provide an “adequate educational opportunity” for at-risk students, and, in 2007, the Arizona Supreme Court denied review.