Craig Barrett’s stealth campaign to cut urban/lower income school funding

by David Safier

Ex-Intel CEO Craig Barrett is the brains and very possibly the muscle behind Arizona's version of the conservative "education reform" movement. The current president and chairman of for-profit BASIS Charter Schools and a national Board member of the for-profit online charter school corporation K12 Inc. is also the head of Brewer's Arizona Ready Education Council (AREC). He's one of the prime movers behind the Performance Funding plan which, if implemented, will reward the "winner" schools with high income students and punish the "loser" schools with low income students.

Barrett is barnstorming the state leading discussions about Arizona education. In a recent stop in Yuma where, according to a Yuma Sun article, he spoke mainly about the Common Core standards, Barrett slipped in a hint of funding trends to come.

“In my mind, there ought to be a very simple formula which doesn't depend on the tax base in your school district but the state basically equalizes the funding across school districts on a statewide basis not a local basis… I'm suggesting that we get to the point where the state assures that there is an adequate amount of funding to provide each kid with an equal opportunity and that has to be a statewide issue and not a county by county or district by district issue. So we're going to look at how you might modify the funding mechanism… We have not made any formal proposals yet but it's something we're starting to work on."

This is a deceptively simple, common-sense statement that is full of red flags about ways to cut funding to poor and urban districts.

The key is Barrett's suggestion that "the state basically equalizes the funding across school districts on a statewide basis not a local basis." Right now, the state has an equalization formula which, so far as I know, isn't based on a school district's tax base, but it does weight the funds based on the types of students in a school district. The more low income, ELL and Special Education students a district educates, the more money it receives to help it deal with educational challenges which aren't nearly as prevalent in districts like, say, Catalina Foothills and Scottsdale. If I'm reading between the lines correctly, Barrett is suggesting the budgetary weightings be eliminated.

Barrett uses the term "equal opportunity," but what he means is equal funding per student regardless of student needs. Conservatives push the idea that "equal" means "identical." In fact, equity of opportunity often demands different approaches and different levels of funding.

We may see that term become a permanent part of Arizona's conservative education lexicon: "funding to provide each kid with an equal opportunity." It sounds egalitarian, but if I'm reading it correctly, it's another ploy to reward society's winners and punish the losers.

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