Supporters of Gov. Jan Brewer’s performance-based education funding model for school districts and charter holders say concerns about the formula’s effects on schools in low-income areas don’t take into account the bigger picture.
“Are they completely unfounded concerns? No. But are they blown way out of proportion? Yes,” Dale Frost, Brewer’s education policy adviser, said in an interview.
Critics including the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, suggest that the model could hinder the improvement of low-performing schools. That’s because some funding would come from all districts and charter holders.
“I think that any time you talk about a funding model that takes away resources from a school that’s already having problems you’re not going to have a solution that actually works,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, the House minority leader.
The governor’s proposal is contained in SB 1444, authored by Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, which was awaiting action by the Senate Rules Committee after passing the Education and Appropriations committees.
The bill calls for phasing in the performance-based education funding model for kindergarten through 12th grade over the next five years.The formula depends on both achievement and improvement. Each component would be measured on a 200-point scale based on the A-F letter grades districts and charter schools already receive from the state Department of Education.
All schools and districts earning a letter grade of C or higher would qualify for achievement funding, while only those that improve on their previous year’s score would receive improvement funding.
Of the $56 million the governor’s budget allocates for performance funding, $38 million would be new funding and $18 million would be reallocated from all districts and charter holders under a formula that works out to about $17 per student in the first year.
The maximum amount of performance funding per student would eventually be $500 for achievement and $500 for improvement but only up to about $180 per student in the first year.
A school that qualifies for neither achievement nor improvement funding would lose some funding.
Craig Barrett, chairman of the Arizona Ready Education Council, called the performance funding model “a pretty symbolic effort ... it’s a small percentage of the budget.”
But ASU Professor David Garcia said the structure of the funding model ties funding to student demographics. He said districts and charters serving low-income students and families will receive significantly less money than others. Payson has one of the higher percentages of low-income students in the state.
“I think the idea here is you want to reward districts for what they do,” he said. “But what you’re doing is you’re penalizing districts for the kind of students they enroll.”