Governor Still Links Scores, Funding

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Senator Chester Crandell

Gov. Jan Brewer’s State of the State speech this week provided only modest hope for parents and teachers waiting for the state will restore school funding.

The governor vowed to again try to convince lawmakers to add extra money to the K-12 budget to give schools extra funding if students show gains on standardized tests — especially lower-performing students.

However, she didn’t propose any significant increase in education funding.

Sen. Chester Crandell (R-Heber) said “This is a much better plan to have the money go to schools based on individual student performance rather than to the school for the district’s performance as a whole.”

Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) said, “It is my understanding that many educators have found that standardized testing of students without recognizing the various backgrounds, learning environments, and unique learning abilities of each student have been found inadequate for proper measurement of actual achievement. It’s ironic that there are such strong voices advocating for standardization when not too long ago the SAT achievement exams were dropped as tools for admissions to Arizona’s university system.”

Arizona ranks 47th in per-student funding nationwide and the Legislature during the recession cut funding more than in any other state.

The State Supreme Court last year ruled that the state violated the law by not providing an adjustment for inflation approved previously by voters. Funding that inflation increase for the current year would result in an $80 million increase in K-12 funding. That adds up to about $80 per student statewide.

Rep. Barton said she wasn’t sure whether she would support an effort to replace the lost inflation funding. House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh has told reporters that the court cannot enforce its ruling since the Legislature could always take money from other portions of the school budget to fund the inflation adjustment.

Rep. Barton noted, “For the Supreme Court’s ruling, that’s a difficult issue. The matter rests on the interpretation of a very simple phrase, much like how we pronounce ‘tomAto’ or ‘tomAHto’ if you see what I’m saying; the words were ‘and’ versus ‘or’.”

Barton added, “Should the decision swing to the maximum of $1.2 billion I can tell you this, many other non-education programs throughout the state will feel the negative impacts of funding losses as the funds flow to education out of proportions to the needs of the rest of our state. Such a decision would be difficult for the Legislature to grapple with, especially given the projected shortfall of $500 million in 2017, but we dug our way out of an even worse situation in 2009 and I’m confident that no matter what the court decides that the Legislature will find a way to make ends meet and continue to prioritize the needs of Arizonans.”

Sen. Crandell said, “If the courts rule in favor of repayment, I am not sure where the money will come from. Health care, maybe?”

The only new money Gov. Brewer discussed in her State of the State address involved the effort to reward schools with rising test scores.

Last year, Gov. Brewer wanted to put $40 million into Student Success Funding, which would provide up to $300 per student based on progress on student test scores. Schools would get the maximum amount if students performing well below grade level made progress in the course of the year based on standardized scores. Schools could get less money if already high-performing students made gains.

Critics like Superintendent of Schools candidate David Garcia, an ASU school of education researcher, maintain that the proposal would mostly funnel money to schools in wealthy neighborhoods, especially given Gov. Brewer’s plan last year to provide a mixture of new money and money taken from other school budget categories.

The Legislature last year provided only $2.5 million in new funding for the plan, which the state never actually spent. The state did provide extra money to start to establish a statewide, computerized recordkeeping system necessary to implement the plan.

This year, Gov. Brewer has proposed using all new money to fund the dusted off version of last year’s proposal. Analysts said although the plan could have provided as much as $300 per student, the average would likely have worked out to more like $30 to $40 per student. At $300 per student, Payson schools could get an extra $720,000. But at $30 per student, that would work out to more like $70,000.

However, many schools might have a hard time showing any improvement — at least while they scramble to change their curriculums to match up with the standards set by the new, national and state Common Core standards.

The state has proposed dropping the long-established AIMS test in favor of new, national tests designed to measure whether students have mastered the standards established by Common Core, that supposedly emphasizes critical thinking skills. Payson has long come in near or just above the state average on most AIMS test measurements. The first results from the new set of tests show strong growth in the early primary grades, which fades away as students head into middle school. As result, Payson might not fare well under the governor’s proposal.

Rep. Barton said the state would struggle to boost education funding to even the national average so long as the federal government continues to keep so much land off the tax rolls.

“As for K-12 funding, if Arizona possessed all its lands (currently less than 17 percent of our state’s lands are held in private ownership, Gila County is only 4 percent), we would have ample funds to more fully address education in our state.

“I welcome you to review states such as Texas where there is very little federally managed lands and look at the financial resources they are able to expend on their children’s education. Unfor­tunately, Arizona does not have those resources, which are available to 38 other states (and now Hawaii).

“On top of this, the federal government is trying to further reduce Arizona’s share of mineral lease revenues,” Barton concluded.

Total per-student spending

State – FY2011 – % change from 2010

New York – $19,076 – 2.5

Alaska – 16,674 – 5.6

New Jersey – 15,968 – -5.2

Vermont – 15,925 – 4.3

Wyoming – 15,849 – 4.5

Connecticut – 15,600 – 4.7

Massachusetts – 13,941 – 2.6

Maryland – 13,871 – 1.0

Rhode Island – 13,815 – 0.9

Pennsylvania – 13,467 – 3.6

New Hampshire – 13,224 – 6.8

Delaware – 12,685 – 2.4

Hawaii – 12,004 – 2.1

West Virginia – 11,846 – 2.8

Wisconsin – 11,774 – 3.6

Maine – 11,438 – -6.7

North Dakota – 11,420 – 3.9

Ohio – 11,223 – 1.7

Nebraska – 10,825 – 0.8

Michigan – 10,823 – 1.7

Illinois – 10,774 – 7.4

Louisiana – 10,723 – 0.8

Minnesota – 10,712 – 0.3

Montana – 10,639 – 1.4

Virginia – 10,364 – -2.2

Iowa – 9,807 – 0.4

Oregon – 9,682 – 0.6

Kansas – 9,498 – -2.2

Washington – 9,483 – 0.3

Missouri – 9,410 – -2.3

Indiana – 9,370 – -2.5

Arkansas – 9,353 – 2.3

Kentucky – 9,309 – 4.0

Georgia – 9,253 – -1.5

California – 9,139 – -2.5

New Mexico – 9,070 – -3.3

South Carolina – 8,986 – -1.7

Florida – 8,887 – 1.7

Alabama – 8,813 – -0.8

South Dakota – 8,805 – -0.6

Colorado – 8,724 – -1.5

Texas – 8,671 – -0.9

Nevada – 8,527 – 0.5

North Carolina – 8,312 – -1.1

Tennessee – 8,242 – 2.2

Mississippi – 7,928 – -2.4

Arizona – 7,666 – -2.3

Oklahoma – 7,587 – -3.9

Idaho – 6,824 – -4.0

Utah – 6,212 – 2.4

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