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4:22 PM Thu, Jan. 17th

State high court to hear university tuition challenge

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to consider a case in which university students say in-state tuition rates are too high.

The justices agreed without comment to hear an appeal filed by the Board of Regents and the state in a case originally filed in 2003 by University of Arizona students.

The students' lawsuit alleged that a $1,000 tuition increase approved earlier in 2003 by the regents and inadequate funding provided by the Legislature violated a state constitutional mandate that university instruction be "as nearly free as possible."

The $1,000 increase raised in-state residents' undergraduate costs by nearly 40 percent to approximately $3,600 a year. In approving the increase, regents said it was necessary to help offset rising costs and provide additional financial aid to students. The midlevel Arizona Court of Appeals in 2006 had partially revived the case after it was dismissed by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in 2004.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals overturned former Judge Rebecca Albrecht's dismissal of the suit against the Board of Regents but said she was correct to dismiss the Legislature as a defendant in the case.

Albrecht's ruling said state law gives the Board of Regents immunity from lawsuits related to the board's legislative and administrative functions and that the Legislature also had immunity for its official business.

In other orders Tuesday, the Supreme Court without comment:

- Declined to hear an appeal of lower court rulings against school districts whose lawsuit demanded that the state provide more money for educating poor children.

The districts had sued the state, arguing that its school finance system was unconstitutional.

The district claim that the school finance system did not provide extra funding to educate students said to be "at risk" of failing to meet academic standards.

- Agreed to review a Court of Appeals ruling that state law lets fire districts impose fees on new construction to help offset costs of providing emergency services.

The Court of Appeals last September reversed a Pima County Superior Court judge and instead ruled in favor of the Northwest Fire District.

The district had filed a lawsuit against a major homebuilder, U.S. Home Corp.