/ Modified sep 26, 2013 2:16 p.m.

AZ Supreme Court: Legislators Must Fund Schools

Elimination of inflation-based budget increases called unconstitutional under state Voter Protection Act.

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The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Legislature must give schools an annual funding increase to account for inflation.

The high court upheld a voter-approved law requiring the Legislature to provide an annual inflation adjustment for state funding to public schools. For this school year, that increase was estimated at $82 million.

The Republican-controlled Legislature increased public school base funding by $82 million for this fiscal year, a move that some Democrats said was in anticipation of the very ruling that came Thursday from the Supreme Court.

The issue began in 2010, when the state was in the midst of a financial crisis, and state funding was being cut almost across the board. That year, the Legislature eliminated a $61 million inflation funding increase for schools.

School districts and education groups then sued.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the state Court of Appeals in reversing the decision of a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. The case has been returned to Superior Court.

The inflation increase in funding was included this year’s budget, and the Arizona Department of Education said the State Supreme Court opinion does not require the state to make up for the years it didn’t provide that funding.

The case focuses on the Voter Protection Act, which limits legislative action that goes against the will of the voters, as expressed in passage of initiatives and referendums.

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