Arizona schools plan to sue Legislature over building cash

- A group of Arizona school districts and several school groups say they plan to sue the Legislature over cuts to funding for buildings and maintenance, nearly a year after voters passed a proposition to resolve a $1.6 Billion lawsuit.

The Arizona School Boards Association announced Friday that it will file the lawsuit next week. The suit is expected to seek hundreds of millions of dollars for schools that the Legislature has not funded since the Great Recession.

Attorneys have been working on the lawsuit for at least two years. Several school boards have voted to sign on as plaintiffs, as have the associations representing teachers, school administrators and business officials.

The lawsuit comes nearly a year after voters approved a plan to settle another multi-billion school funding lawsuit by tapping the state's land trust. Proposition 123 adds $3.5 billion in spending over 10 years.

The pending lawsuit comes, as the state's top education official is calling for a tax increase to bring in more money for teacher pay.

Proposition 301, which was passed by voters, brought in over $640 Millions on Sales Tax proceeds for public schools. It is due to expire in 2021, and Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) has said he would support extending it. Meanwhile, State Superintendent of Public Education, Diane Douglas, has proposed that the tax be increased to a full 1%, with part of the proceeds being used for an 11% increase in teacher salary.

"Overwhelmingly, what I hear from Arizonans is we want our teachers paid better," said Douglas. "So, this is a way to do that."

According to Gov. Ducey's proposed budget, teachers will receive a 2% raise, over five years, which adds up to about $200 per year. Under Douglas' plan, teachers could see a $5,000 increase in salary.

"We need to value our teachers more," said Stacey Morley with Stand for Children Arizona. "They are the biggest impact they have on our children."

According to a recent report from WalletHub, Arizona is ranked near dead last in the entire county, for per-student public school spending. In addition, Arizona is among the last in the country for teacher pay. Education activists said academic test scores show Arizona's students are not up to par.

"41% of our kids are reading at grade level by 3rd Grade," said Morley. "Only 26% of 8th Graders are passing their math assessment. We are not serving our children."

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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