It’s time to modernize AZ’s school funding formula – Arizona Capitol Times



1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Iranian activists have held U.S. Embassy staff hostage throughout the year. The United States boycotted the Olympics. Ronald Reagan became the 40e The president of the United States. These are some of the memorable events of 1980. America’s youth were still a year away from hearing the phrase “I want my MTV,” and the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling automobile in the country. It was also the last time Arizona policymakers substantially updated the K-12 funding formula. Now is the time to modernize the formula again.

Arizona educators accomplished a great deal under the 1980 formula. The K-12 student population grew from less than 500,000 in 1980 to end 1.2 million in 2020. Over the past 40 years, our state has simultaneously improved the quality and quantity of education.

Like the Oldsmobile Cutlass, however, Arizona’s school funding system has grown increasingly outdated. Today, just by enrolling in different public schools, the same Arizona student can generate very different K-12 funding amounts. The same student could change public schools in Arizona but receive only a fraction of the public funding received by their previous school. Forty years after the last overhaul, it’s time for Arizona policymakers to complete the work of equalizing funding.

The formula served an important purpose at the time: advancing equity

Arizona broadly equalized school funding in 1980 by imposing an equal level of local property tax in each school district and creating a unique operational formula built around weights for individual student needs. Previously, tax rates and operating expense levels were discretionary and differed significantly depending on the wealth of the local school district. Arizona was one of many states forced by lawsuits to reform their funding formulas to ensure that the learning opportunities of poor students were not harmed because of their zip code.

Inequalities crept in after 1980

The 1980 effort went a long way towards equalization, but because it enabled local jurisdictions to increase the possibilities of adding to their school budgets through additional tax levies in primary and secondary education, inequalities in district resources have persisted and grown over time.

Article 2, section 13 of the Arizona Constitution declares “No law will be promulgated granting to a citizen, a class of citizens or a society other than municipal, privileges or immunities which, under the same conditions, will not belong equally to all the citizens or societies. Despite this provision and the 1980 reforms, the best-funded Arizona district today generates six times as much income per student as the least funded district. Two students with identical needs can generate very different resources depending on where they attend school, mainly due to local factors. In the absence of an automatic or mandatory formula review required of the state legislature, these inequalities have continued to grow. This state of affairs does not fit well with the constitutional principle of equality of privileges and immunities.

The formula was created for a different system

Revisions to the 1980 formula sought to replace local discretion over school taxation and spending with an equalized state effort focused on individual students. This was a massive two-year effort that upended much of the tradition and ease of practice for wealthier school districts, but resulted in a result closer to “general and uniform” requirements. of the state constitution.

However, this formula was created to serve a school system where the vast majority of students attended the local school assigned to them. Students today are much more mobile and education in public schools is based much more on attracting students than on mere proximity.

In 1994, the Arizona legislature passed two policies that dramatically accelerated the abandonment of affected schools. Public charter schools do not operate with a particular jurisdiction; in effect, their “local district” is the state of Arizona. Charters are not able to levy local property taxes; their public funding for maintenance, operation and capital comes exclusively from the state. Arizona Joint Budgetary Committee calculated that the average charter student in Arizona received $ 1,273 less than the average student in the district in total public funding.

Arizona lawmakers have also demanded that districts adopt an open enrollment policy, allowing students to attend the school of their choice inside or outside their home district, at no cost to schooling. Today, Arizona charter schools serve about 20% of public school students and have taken the initiative to accommodate growth in enrollment in the state. The most common form of school choice, however, is attendance at public schools “outside of borders”, with district schools gaining and losing students through open enrollment. A study of public school enrollment in Maricopa County found that open enrollment students outnumber charter students by nearly two to one..

District open enrollment, charter enrollment, and private / home schooling combined likely have a majority of students attending schools other than their zoned district school. As the percentage of students attending school in their district of residence declines, the rationale for local tax assistance versus statewide tax assistance erodes. After nearly 30 years, charter schools have become an integral part of the Arizona public school system. As such, their funding should be integrated into the overall school funding formula.

Arizona policymakers should consider the successful practice of other states in funding students with special needs such as people with disabilities, and English learners might reflect the level of services required rather than an amount. arbitrary funding associated with a diagnosis. School-related weights, such as additional funding for rural communities and rewards for academic achievement, should be built into the funding formula and provided to schools on a formula-neutral basis.

An outdated formula also creates inequalities for taxpayers

Postal codes no longer determine a child’s public school. Postal codes, however, still strongly influence the level of resources their school receives. In the past, local owners and businesses were taxed to support the education of students in their neighborhoods. Today, they are increasingly taxed to pay for the education of students attending schools elsewhere or receiving their education online. Location-based taxes for mobile students make less and less sense over time.

For example, the formula for school transportation only applies to students attending schools in the district. This means Arizona households pay school transportation taxes, but many students, including the majority of Maricopa County students, do not benefit from it. Arizona school buses still largely transport children to their attendance area, as they did in 1993. Families using other public school options have to fend for themselves. districts, limiting their transportation options. Governor Doug Ducey’s budget request to provide transportation assistance to district open enrollment and charter students recognizes the importance of this long neglected equity issue.

Likewise, the disconnect between the building links of school districts and student attendance patterns has contributed to a glut of underutilized space in many districts – even though excellent district and charter schools with high parental demand and waiting lists remain short of facilities. This effectively hampers the growth of our top schools and leaves many students on the waiting list excluded from their top school.

A school finance system tailored to Arizona’s needs would collect all school taxes and distribute them on an equitable per student basis according to a single formula statewide. The tax liability for education should be shared fairly among taxpayers, and the income should be allocated to the public school the students attend, rather than to a local tax authority. Inequalities for both taxpayers and schools would be minimized by replacing district obligations and canceling elections with a system of increased public funding. Districts with facility-related debt should retain a local tax to pay off pre-existing debt during a transition period.

Modernization is essential to improve equity

As individual success is linked to higher levels of achievement, the economic future of the state is linked to education. Arizona’s core interest in educating its children does not vary depending on the public school they attend, and two Arizona students with the same needs should not be supported by significant funding either. different.

As Arizona grows, local school taxes shouldn’t be a determining factor in choosing where to locate a business. We cannot expect Arizona to be competitive today using the 1980s playbook. Now is the time to tackle funding inequalities squarely and modernize the outdated funding formula. ‘Arizona for the needs of the 21st Century.

Public funding systems for public education should derive from statewide support and focus directly on students. Arizona got off to a good start in this direction in 1980, setting a course followed by many states thereafter. What was once a visionary formula followed in the path of the 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass. We can – we must – set a new and better standard for student funding once again.

Matthew Ladner, is the director of the Arizona Center for Student Opportunity


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