(KFYI News) – A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ordered the state to immediately increase funding to public schools this budget year by nearly $317 million.
The order from Judge Katherine Cooper formalizes a ruling she made last month requiring the state to boost funding to make up for inflation. Cooper refused a request by the state to delay last month's order. She has set hearings for October to decide if the state must also make back payments to schools for money it didn't provide starting in the 2009 budget year.
Gov. Jan Brewer said last month that an appeal was planned. However, Don Peters, an attorney representing the school districts that brought the lawsuit, says filing an appeal may not delay the payment. "It may be appealed, but until an appellate court either stays it or reverses it, this is a binding court order and the state must obey it."
Then again, Peters acknowledges that even with the court order to pay the money, the legislature must authorize the expenditure. "That can't happen... until the legislature convenes, whether it's in January or possibly a special session."
Arizona voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2000 requiring the legislature to adjust public education funding annually by the rate of inflation. However, for four years during the recession, the legislature failed to authorize any funding increases, and in some cases, reduced education funding, insisting that there wasn't enough money to even maintain the status quo.
The judgment could cost more than $1.6 billion over five years. If Cooper orders back payments the number increases to about $2.9 billion.
The state Supreme Court ruled last year that inflation adjustments are required and sent the case back to Cooper to work out specifics.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)