In a win for education advocates, a ballot measure that would tax wealthy residents to fund schools will go before voters on the November ballot, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision released on August 19.
In late July, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury booted the K-12 education funding measure Invest in Ed off the ballot, siding with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that argued that the initiative's 100-word summary used by petitioners was misleading. Critics argued that Coury's ruling was flawed and set an impossible standard for ballot initiative campaigns to meet.
The Arizona Supreme Court sided with the critics.
"Upon consideration, the Court unanimously finds that the 100-word description did not create a significant danger of confusion or unfairness and reverses the trial court ruling," the order states. "The Court also unanimously finds that evidence of the compensation structure and incentives presented at trial did not warrant the invalidation of the circulators’ petitions ... and affirms the trial court ruling rejecting this challenge."
Roopali Desai, an attorney working for the Invest in Ed campaign, praised the ruling.
"We’re ecstatic. And we are excited to take the issue to the voters where we know it will pass," she told Phoenix New Times. "There is tremendous support to fund public education in Arizona and the unanimous decision in the court is vindicating."
The Arizona Secretary of State will proceed to "include the Invest in Education ballot initiative in the general election publicity pamphlet and to place it on the general election ballot," the order says.
Invest in Ed would levy a 3.5 percent tax on individuals with incomes above $250,000 and married couples with incomes over $500,000. The tax revenue will be invested in the K-12 public school system, paying for teacher salaries and other expenses.
Jaime Molera, chairman of Arizonans for Great Schools and a Strong Economy, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce-backed group that filed the lawsuit against the Invest in Ed measure, slammed the court's ruling.
"Today’s decision is a disappointment. We believe the Superior Court decision that the proponents deceived voters with a flawed and misleading 100-word petition summary and that they engaged in an illegal bonus payment scheme in their signature gathering process," Molera said in a statement. “We maintain another opportunity to appeal this decision, however, in the court of public opinion ... We trust that Arizona will reject this risky scheme."
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Just two years ago, a similar education ballot measure was rejected by the Arizona Supreme Court for inaccuracies in its 100-word summary. Backers of this year's measure feared that they would witness a repeat of 2018 if the court sided with the plaintiffs yet again and knocked it off the ballot.
(This story was updated after publication with a response from the Invest in Ed campaign.)
Read the full order from the Arizona Supreme Court below: