Craven v. Huppenthal – 11/18/2014

December 1, 2014

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that the statutory framework for financing charter schools does not violate the equal protection and general and uniform clauses of the state constitution.

Appellants filed suit against John Huppenthal, the State Board of Education, and the State of Arizona, claiming that Arizona’s statutory funding scheme for charter schools is unconstitutional because it results in gross disparities between public charter schools and other district public schools.  The Arizona School Boards Association and Creighton Elementary School District No. 14 intervened as defendants.  Appellants claimed that because Arizona statutes make funding available to district schools that is unavailable to charter schools, the charter schools are unable to provide additional services that “enrich their students’ educational experience and enhance their educational opportunities.”  The superior court granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment.

The Court first explained that charter schools are regulated and funded differently than traditional district schools.  District schools receive state funding for constructing facilities, as well as additional funding through budget overrides and bonds.  Charter schools receive “equalization assistance” and may accept grants and gifts.  The Court then explained that under the general and uniform clause of the Arizona constitution, the State is only obligated to fund a public school system that is adequate.  Because Appellants admitted that their children are receiving more than adequate educations in the charter schools, the Court held that the State is fulfilling its obligation. 

As to the equal protection clause, the Court explained that equal protection guarantees are satisfied if “all persons in a class are treated alike.”  Appellants argued that district school students and charter school students are members of a single class, but the Court found that Appellants failed to demonstrate unequal treatment among members of this class because enrollment in a charter school is voluntary.  Relying on a similar case from New Jersey, the Court explained that Appellants did not allege that their district schools are inadequate, such that choosing a charter school was necessary to ensure an adequate education for their children.  Thus, Appellants failed to meet their threshold burden of proving they have been treated differently from other members of their class. 

Practice Tip:  Appellants relied on language found in a footnote with which only two justices agreed in a plurality decision.  The Court rejected Appellants’ argument because one justice, who otherwise concurred with the result, specifically did not concur with the argument made in the footnote. 

Presiding Judge Downie authored the opinion; Judges Gould and Thumma concurred.