Brewer’s “Performance Funding” plan: Who created it?


by David Safier

[I've written three posts about Brewer's Performance Funding plan: An explanation of how it rewards schools in wealthy neighborhoods and punishes schools in poor neighborhoods; an example of how three schools would fare under the inherently inequitable plan; and a way to make the plan more equitable.]

The question is, were the people who put together Brewer's Performance Funding plan too stupid to know it favors wealth and punishes poverty, or was that part of the plan? The answer is clearly the latter. Brewer's Performance Funding plan is classic "education reform" conservative-style, where No Child (except poor children) Is Left Behind.

Most likely, the brains behind the plan is Craig Barrett, the head of Brewer's Arizona Ready Education Council (AREC). In the section of Brewer's proposed budget on Performance Funding, it says she tasked AREC with improving education in Arizona, and "after nine months of collaborative deliberations, research and input from a broad selection of education stakeholders," they came up with this plan.

Who is Craig Barrett? He's the ex-CEO of Intel, a smart guy who knows how to get things done. These days, he's focused on education with a conservative, privatization bias.

Barrett is the president of BASIS Charter schools, which would get top dollar from his Performance Funding plan because its schools use a triple-selection process to make sure they have the top students in the state (1. Most of the applicants are high achieving students; 2. If students who are accepted do poorly on the pretest, they're either counseled out of attending or told they'll be put back a grade; 3. Students who don't succeed in the fast-paced, highly competitive atmosphere leave the school.) BASIS is a for-profit corporation, so the more extra funding it gets from the state, the more profit it makes from educating high achieving students from high income families on the taxpayers' dime. Every year, more BASIS schools are being started in Arizona and around the country, which means more profit for its founders and, if President Barrett has a paid position, more money for him.

Barrett is also on the national Board of Directors of K12 Inc., the for-profit, publicly traded corporation that specializes in online charter schools (Arizona Virtual Academy [AZVA] is a K12 school). The corporation is currently being sued by its stockholders for lying about student achievement, which is very low at most of its schools around the country. AZVA is currently on academic probation because of its consistently low AIMS scores. It isn't likely to see much extra money from the Performance Funding plan, but Barrett's connection with K12 Inc. as well as BASIS demonstrates how vested he is in the privatization and corporatization of education.

The fact that the inherent economic bias of the Performance Funding plan is so well thought out makes it very dangerous. If the people who created it actually wanted an equitable system, they might change the model once they saw its flaws. Unfortunately, the plan's bias isn't a bug, it's a feature. It's going to be very difficult to stop this plan from becoming law if it's pushed by powerful Republican legislators. The fact that it will need some extra funding is the only reason Republicans might not support it.


  1. Thanks for your comments, Mike. Let me address them.

    Craig Barrett may or may not be paid in his position as President of BASIS or a Board member of K12 Inc. Since both are for-profit corporations, their finances are not public record. I understand Barrett is wealthy, but I also know making money is in some people’s genes. For them, it’s like playing Monopoly. I can’t say if Barrett is one of those people. If he makes a public statement that he gets no revenue from either source, I’ll take him at his word.

    If Barrett is an honest man deeply interested in the future of education, he should address some of the very serious problems with K12 Inc., like abysmal test scores, high student turnover and a very serious suit by stockholders backed up by scathing testimony from ex-teachers. To my knowledge, he has never talked about K12 Inc., though he loves to boast about BASIS.

    As for BASIS: I have no doubt it’s a rigorous school that gives its students a high quality education. My point is, does it deserve an extra $300-500 per student because of the schools’ “A” ratings, when its students would perform well in any schools they attended? One of the reasons its students are so exceptional is that so many of them leave because they can’t take the academic pressure. A school that can eliminate students who aren’t able to make the grade can give a very challenging education to those that survive. If BASIS’ success is based on its educational model and not on the quality of its students, it should demonstrate that it can raise achievement in low income areas. As you probably, know, however, all its Arizona schools are situated in areas with plenty of high income residents.

  2. The “Performance Funding” may indeed be a poor plan but i feel a few points in this story are just plain wrong.

    1. Craig Barrett is clearly not motivated by personal profit in this matter. Craig is extremely wealthy due to his many years at Intel. Craig sees education as an area where he has the ability to make a difference in his retirement. Craig has long experience as an educator (college prof) and he has well formed opinions from his years at Intel as to prevailing US educational quality. He sees traditional public schools as being unwilling/unable to adapt and he sees charter schools as the much more innovative education arena. Craig may or may not be wrong but he is clearly passionate about education and is just as clearly not motivated by profit in this matter.

    2. I have some recent experience with BASIS Schools as my youngest child is currently 2/3 way through his first year (9th grade) at one of its schools. BASIS uses a vastly different system of education than other schools – the contrast is night and day. It is different than the suburban high school that I attended and it is different than the other schools that my two children have attended in terms of setting high standards, teaching student responsibility, hiring teachers who are subject matter experts who were also great students, empowering teachers and holding everybody accountable. Because of the different approach, BASIS produces far superior results even after adjusting for free lunches. I could not be more thrilled by the BASIS system and dismissing it because of the student mix (derived from open admissions) is intellectually dishonest.

  3. 90%. of Arizona families already have made their school “choice”, and that is their own neighborhood public schools. Maybe the legislature should remember all of them and fund them properly and not have a never ending list of overlapping unfunded State mandates. Maybe the vast majority of Arizona families should be listened to, not just the self serving corporate interests. Maybe rhe charter schools need to adhere to State procurement laws. GOP means only corporate interests.