Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has filed an appeal in his case claiming the Arizona Board of Regents have not complied to a section of the Arizona constitution that stipulates in-state tuition must be “as nearly free as possible.”
The appeal comes five months after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes dismissed the case, claiming that Brnovich needed the permission of the Governor or legislature before he could file a lawsuit against ABOR.
O.H. Skinner, acting chief of government accountability for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, spoke for the Attorney General’s office about the appeal.
"We expect to transfer something directly to the Arizona supreme court shortly," he said.
Skinner said that ABOR needs to make the cost of instruction one of the main factors for setting tuition.
"Instead, they are setting tuition based of what students can pay and how much debt they can go in to," Skinner said.
He said the reason the lower court dismissed the case comes down to what power the Attorney General really has.
"When another officer or board or agency of the state is not complying with state law, who gets to come to court as a judge to weigh in on that?" he said. "... The people's lawyer, the people's representative, is being prevented from protecting the people and bringing others into compliance with state law."
ABOR Chair Ron Shoopman released a statement following the appeal in which he wrote that ABOR was confident that the court of appeals will affirm the previous court's decision.
"The board is committed to keeping tuition as low as possible while maintaining the quality of the state’s public universities," the statement read. "It is a fact that compared to public university peers, Arizona's public universities graduate a higher percentage of students at a lower cost. Nearly half of undergraduate students at our universities graduate with no debt."
The statement also said that ABOR will continue to try and make tuition affordable for all families in Arizona.
Central to the Attorney General's office is the assertion of the office's right to file a suit in the name of the state to "...recover illegal payments of public money," the appeal says. Brnovich's team argues that ABOR's authorization of in-state tuition to students who are not "lawfully present" in the U.S. is illegal, thus giving his office grounds to bring an action against the regents.
Brnovich originally filed the lawsuit against ABOR on Sept. 8 2017. He claims the board has made tuition “dramatically and unconstitutionally high.”
“I think providing oneself or their children the opportunity to earn that degree is a critical part of the American Dream,” Brnovich said to The State Press on March 26. “To me, getting jacked up with $50,000 to $60,000 in student debt doesn’t mean that your education is nearly as free as possible.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.