School Board Yearns To Be Average

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The Payson School Board Monday adopted a plaintive legislative wish list that included the bold proposition that Arizona should strive to be, well, average.

Boosting state spending on K-12 education from dead last to 25th among the 50 states topped the lobbying priority list offered for the board’s endorsement by the Arizona School Boards Association.

Arizona spent an average of $8,698 per student in 2010, although that amount has since declined. That compared to a national average of $11,824, according to Census data compiled by the National Kids Count Program. Arizona remains about $3,100 below the national average. In Payson, boosting spending to the national average would increase the $13-million operations and maintenance budget by about $7.4 million.

Most of the rest of the priorities amount to an effort to restore the roughly $1 billion cut from K-12 education since the onset of the recession.

As it happens, the Legislature this week finally proposed an alternative to Gov. Jan Brewer’s $9 billion budget plan. Both the Governor’s budget and the alternative proposed by the state Senate would provide a modest increase for K-12 schools, after four years of cuts. The Governor’s budget included $80 million for inflation ordered by the courts, $36 million to boost funding for schools whose students score well on standardized tests and $41 million to help districts move to federal Common Core academic standards and set up a testing system to track their progress.

Other legislative priorities the school board approved included:

• Restore state funding for all-day kindergarten, eliminated in 2010 to save $218 million.

• Provide enough money to resume repairing and adding school buildings, which the Legislature has nearly eliminated in the past four years. The courts made the state responsible for paying for needed school buildings to equalize funding between districts, but the Legislature has provided far less money than the schools say they need.

• Restore money needed to provide school security, including school resource officers — police officers stationed on campuses that also teach classes. The Legislature cut money for resource officers several years ago. A number of mass shootings on school campuses elsewhere prompted Brewer to propose a partial restoration of those funds. A bill that passed through the Legislature would have instead required schools to allow teachers to bring guns to school in rural districts.

• Provide enough money for schools to administer all the tests necessary to track student progress, including computer technology so students can take the tests online. The state has required districts to adopt the new federal Common Core Academic standards and required districts to base teacher evaluations on student test scores. The state has also proposed linking school funding to test scores — but hasn’t provided enough money for most districts to either buy the new curriculum materials or administer the new tests.

The Payson School Board added several priorities of its own to the list. Those added priorities included:

• Equalize the tax breaks available to parents of private and public schools. Currently, people can get a tax credit worth up to $400 per couple for donations to public schools through the Credit for Kids tax write off. By contrast, parents can get a $5,000 tax credit for tuition paid to private schools.

• Restore funding for NAVIT, the regional program that provides money for vocational programs in local districts. As a budget cutting measure, the Legislature last year cut off funding for vocational classes for high school freshmen

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