The last overhaul of Arizona’s education funding formula occurred nearly 35 years ago, and today Arizona ranks nearly last among states in per-pupil spending. Our system lacks transparency, accessibility for parents, appropriate teacher and school funding incentives, and student equity.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council, made up of education and business leaders, met this week to discuss its preliminary recommendations for the Governor, in his effort to modernize Arizona’s education funding system. The goal of this effort is to ensure more funds make it into the classroom, improving classroom instruction and student achievement. While these ideas still have a long way to go, they provide some information about what the Governor may include in his legislative agenda for 2016.
While we encourage you to review all of the recommendations and the recordings from the meeting, here are a few ideas being discussed, as reported by the Arizona Republic:
- Eliminate separate funding for higher functioning special-needs students such as those with dyslexia or a speech impairment. The funds currently dedicated to these students would be moved into the base funding level for all students.
- Fund students with more serious special needs based on the costs determined in the most recent audit from 2007 (That 2007 cost study and audit found that we’re underfunding special education in Arizona by anywhere from $170 – 470 million).
- Fund the existing Extraordinary Special Needs Fund so schools can request emergency help serving high-cost students.
- Create a website where parents can calculate how much their child generates in school funding.
- Eliminate additional funding to districts for experienced teachers; possibly rolling that money into the base amount allocated per student.
- Develop policies to better recruit and retain teachers.
- Continue to monitor the school A-F letter grade system revisions, currently underway.
- Provide additional funding to A-rated schools as well as B and C schools that have shown significant gains. Higher-performing schools with more low-income students would get more money than schools with fewer low-income students.
- Reward A-rated schools with exemptions from some financial requirements, including annual audits and procurement regulations.
- Require schools to provide financial data at the school level instead of just the district level.
While the Council still has much to discuss, we’d like to emphasize that this is a critical conversation for our state to have. It’s clear that we need to update the way we fund education in Arizona, and that includes both new funding and the way we spend existing dollars.
We must ensure that as this conversation continues and the Council’s work moves forward, we maintain our focus on aligning a new funding formula to improved outcomes for students and a narrowed achievement gap. This will help us make sure Arizona students are graduating high school, prepared for college and career, as will incentivizing teacher and school excellence.
Check back on our blog as we’ll keep you updated on this important effort to revamp how we fund education in our state and share your thoughts in our comments section below.