The state Appellate Court rejected a suit brought by Attorney General Mark Brnovich against the Arizona Board of Regents over the cost of tuition at the state’s three universities.
The court ruled that the attorney general does not have standing to sue — he can only file legal action when he has specific legal authority or when authorized by the governor.
Brnovich said this case now moves into an issue of separation of powers — that the elected attorney general can’t be limited to the whims of another elected body, in this case, the governor’s office.
Whether Brnovich can convince the state Supreme Court to take up the case remains to be seen, and the issue Brnovich is championing is one, we believe, best left to legal scholars.
However, we do agree with Brnovich’s initial premise — university tuition has spiraled out of control and no longer adheres to the state’s constitutional mandate.
Article 11, Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution states, “The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.”
Base resident tuition at the University of Arizona this year is $12,447, at ASU it’s $12,530, and at NAU it’s $12,073.
Sure, that’s significantly less than UCLA’s base resident tuition of $33,901, or Harvard’s base tuition of $46,340, but it’s more than Utah State’s base resident tuition of $6,800, the University of Nevada-Reno’s base resident tuition of $6,465 or New Mexico State’s base resident tuition $6,094.
More importantly, $12,000 a year isn’t even remotely close to “as nearly free as possible.”
While we agree with Brnovich bringing suit, we disagree on the issue of who should be sued — the failure to keep education affordable falls squarely at the feet of the Legislature, not the Board of Regents.
The regents can only work with the funds allocated by the Legislature, and it’s legislators who have been systematically reducing the money going to education. A review by Capitol News Media showed that the allocation to the state’s universities from the general fund has decreased from $7,212 per student in 2009-10 to $4,027 this year, a decrease of 44.2 percent. The regents have no choice but to increase tuition and fees to make up that shortfall.
In a somewhat related note, Article 11, Section 6 of the state’s Constitution has a second sentence. It reads, “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.”
Yet, the Legislature is looking to move money from those public schools into vouchers to offset tuition at for-profit private and parochial schools. In fact, according to the Arizona Department of Education, a record amount — $110 million — is expected to be spent on school vouchers this year.
Hmm . . . It’s almost like the Legislature doesn’t want the poor and middle class to receive a quality education, instead reserving education for the wealthiest Arizonans who just happen to be big campaign donors and those willing to suffer a few decades of crippling debt from lenders who also happen to be big money campaign donors.
Nah, that can’t be it, can it?