Sufficient Spending, Spent Wisely
How we can better fund Arizona's schools
According to a recent report, Arizona ranks at the bottom of funding per student in the nation.
Today, there’s a disconnect between the amount of money in Arizona’s system and student outcomes—our funding mechanisms don’t rely on evidence-based strategies for raising student achievement.
It is time for Arizona to reexamine its school finance system at the local, state, and federal levels and develop a system that meets the needs of Arizona’s students and schools as they exist today.
A big step was the passage of Proposition 123. Learn more about why we supported Proposition 123 here.
One of Stand Arizona’s policy priorities is “sufficient funding, spent wisely”. In order to keep the focus of conversations surrounding the school finance system on what is best for all students, while acknowledging the needs of all other stakeholders - teachers, school leaders, parents, and taxpayers – Stand Arizona has operationalized this priority into the following six key values as the foundation for this work:
Student achievement matters most
Preparing students for college and career is the primary objective of our public school system, so as many resources as possible should be directed toward that objective. There must be room for innovation in the system, including a willingness to pilot and evaluate various performance incentives and to keep track if strategies work to avoid wasting resources on ineffective practices. These performance incentives could include meaningful CTE certifications, AP exams, school letter grades, and individual student growth.
Equity, not equality
Equity does not mean that every child should generate the exact same dollar amount; it means that funding should be based on what students need to receive an excellent education and for every school to have the same opportunity to earn those resources. Similarly, as the system is set up to support equity for students, it should also support equity for tax payers. Property owners in one community should not be paying significantly more than their neighboring communities without clear voter approval for specific achievement-focused needs.
While any system that allocates several billion dollars of funding will be complex, the general approach of the system should be one that is easily understood. The average parent should be able to understand – in general terms – how much a school or district is receiving and on what that funding is being spent. Colorado recently passed a bill requiring school-based expenses be publicly reported; enabling the public to access actual expenditures by school could drive meaningful consideration of resource allocations as well as ensuring the students generating the funding in the state formula are receiving the services they deserve.
Flexibility with accountability
Local schools and districts should have as much flexibility as possible to meet the needs of their students with the funding they receive. However, coupled with that flexibility must be accountability for results, primarily academic but also financial and operational. If a school or district is not meeting expectations for student achievement or is clearly mismanaging funds, that school or district should lose the privilege of flexibility and be subject to more stringent oversight from the state.
Where efficiencies can be identified, they should be implemented to free up resources. The school finance system should also encourage innovation in operations and organization by allowing schools and districts to keep the cost-savings they identify. We support Governor Ducey’s effort to identify these efficiencies in the system through the Classroom First Commission.
Stability and predictability in funding levels
There will inevitably be ups and downs in the economy and state revenues, but the system should be structured to minimize the swings in funding available to schools and, if possible to limit the burden on the General Fund during financial downturns. As property taxes are a more stable revenue source than a sales tax, property taxes must continue to be a significant source of school funding; however, limitations on local levies must exist to ensure equity among districts and between charters and districts.
Learn more about where Arizona voters stand on education funding in our recent statewide survey.