A Little Bit Better

Governor’s budget includes small increases for schools, child protection

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Gov. Jan Brewer’s already controversial budget plan would provide more money for schools and Child Protective Services — but link school funding increasingly to student test scores.

The $7.9 billion spending plan won’t come close to restoring the cuts of the past three years, but should protect a $450 million “Rainy Day” fund and provide modest increases for key priorities, despite the loss this year of $1 billion from a temporary sales tax.

Some lawmakers have already objected to her plan to spend an extra $152 million in state funds to attract $1.6 billion in federal funding to provide coverage for about 300,000 people through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Other proposals for new spending may prove less controversial, including a small increase in K-12 spending to implement reforms of curriculum and linking test scores to funding.

In addition, Gov. Brewer’s budget proposes significant increases in funding for Child Protective Services, in response to soaring rates of child abuse and a surge in the number of children in state care.

Child Protective Services

After several years of cutbacks, Gov. Brewer wants to add 50 new CPS workers in fiscal 2013 and another 150 in fiscal 2014.

That won’t keep pace with the 32 percent increase in reports of child abuse since 2009. Nor will it match the 40 percent increase in the number of children in out-of-home, court-ordered care since 2010 to a stunning total of 14,392.

Gov. Brewer’s budget proposal would provide $4.4 million more for caseworkers in 2013 and $19 million in 2014. It would also provide an extra $10 million for the foster care system this year and $49 million in 2014.

Universities

The budget also proposes new money for the state’s three universities after several years of deep cuts. The new money could ease Arizona State University’s qualms about committing to construction of a new, 6,000-student campus in Payson.

The budget would provide an extra $15 million for the universities depending on improvements in enrollment and graduation rates. Of that, ASU could get $8.7 million. The budget also includes an extra $12 million for ASU to equalize per-student funding among the three state universities. In addition, the proposed budget includes $20 million for “soft capital” costs, of which ASU could gain $11 million.

However, the Legislature has often spurned Gov. Brewer’s budget requests for the universities. Advocates for the universities hope that acceptance of the link between funding and things like graduation rates will build support for the universities in the Legislature.

K-12 schools

The budget includes a similar link between performance and funding for the state’s K-12 system, which suffered deeper proportionate cuts during the recession than schools in any other state, according to several national studies. Arizona has lower per-student funding than almost any other state, according to national studies.

Gov. Brewer has proposed a modest increase of about $110 million overall, with much of the new money allocated to various attempts at school reform.

For instance, her proposed budget includes $40 million to provide teacher training, new materials and new technology to help school districts overhaul their curriculum to comply with “common core” reforms. These changes in teaching methods and materials are intended to teach students critical thinking skills and are based on national curriculum — and testing. The budget includes an additional $20 million in new money to help set up a statewide testing system based on the common core standards, which take effect in 2015.

In addition, Gov. Brewer has proposed a link between student test scores and state funding for K-12 schools.

Initially, the system would provide an extra $500 per student for schools that do well on the new state grading system. This system assigns a grade of A to F to each school, based mostly on how student perform on the state’s AIMS test, with an extra weight thrown in for how well the weakest students perform.

In addition, poorly performing schools — like Rim Country Middle School — could get an extra $500 per student if their test-score-based grades improve over time.

Gov. Brewer wants to add money to the system for two-thirds of the payments for improvements — with one-third reallocated from current funding. In 2014, the bonuses linked to performance would total $54 million. But that amount would increase each year — reaching $271 million in 2018.

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