This is the latest development in the fight over who sets university tuition rates. Some legislators want to do that micromanagement and, for his own purposes, the AG rules against regents, concludes Legislature can set university tuition rates. That’s the report from Howard Fischer in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required). Translation: AZ AG Brnovich is ruling on his own law suit.
The fight started back in September so you might want to review the background I posted back then in AZ AG sues Regents over tuition. First let’s review the constitutional background I provided in that earlier post.
Here are the relevant items from the Arizona Constitution.
Article 11, section 6. Admission of students of both sexes to state educational institutions; tuition; common school system
Section 6. 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. 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.
Article 11, section 10. Source of revenue for maintenance of state educational institutions
Section 10. The revenue for the maintenance of the respective state educational institutions shall be derived from the investment of the proceeds of the sale, and from the rental of such lands as have been set aside by the enabling act approved June 20, 1910, or other legislative enactment of the United States, for the use and benefit of the respective state educational institutions. In addition to such income the legislature shall make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions, and shall make such special appropriations as shall provide for their development and improvement.
Here is some of the update in Fischer’s report.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a legal opinion December 7 saying that, with only narrow exceptions, the Legislature has “unrestricted’’ authority to redefine the powers and duties of the Arizona Board of Regents.
That opens the door to ongoing efforts by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, to rein in the board.
More to the point, Brnovich said he reads prior Supreme Court rulings to say that the Legislature itself could set tuition, wresting that power away from the regents.
And if lawmakers opted to do that, it would make the regents’ legal arguments defending their tuition-setting policies legally moot.
Brnovich filed suit in September, saying the regents have “dramatically and unconstitutionally’’ increased the cost of going to school at any of the state’s three universities. He claims that costs have gone up from 315 percent to 370 percent since the 2002 school year, a figure he said computes out to 14.1 percent on an annualized basis, “the third fastest growth rate among all 50 states.’’
He acknowledged that during the same period the Legislature sharply decreased the aid it supplies to higher education. Legislative budget reports have found that since 2008 alone, state aid went from $9,648 per student to $4,098, even before the effects of inflation are considered.
Brnovich has dismissed that as irrelevant, saying it still does not excuse the regents from what he contends is their obligation to keep tuition to what it actually costs to educate students above and beyond state aid.
So let’s stop right there. Look back at the quotes from the AZ constitution. It does not say that the Regents are responsible for making higher education as free as possible. It does identify the legislature as the body responsible for making “appropriations, to be met by taxation.” And that body is remiss in its obligation. Brnovich can dismiss as “irrelevant” that failure but his assertion does not make the legislature’s responsibility less true.
Stay tuned - the fight is headed to the courts. We need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If the legislature gets control over tuition our university system is screwed.