Today, the House Appropriations Committee on the Arizona State Legislature considered a striker amendment to SB1269 which would revamp the Arizona Public School funding system for the first time in 40 years.

Republicans on the committee felt 30 minutes, with limited debate, was all that was needed to consider the bill before passing it on a party line vote.

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The Republicans on the committee did not think it was worth the time to debate this momentous change to the state’s public school funding system for at least one minute for each year the current mechanism (40 years) has been in place.

It is also not helpful that Republicans chose to apparently limit the stakeholder participation in the legislative drafting process to themselves and their charter school allies. Democrats and members of the traditional public school community like Mesa Unified only started receiving the language of the bill last week.

Holding a thirty minute hearing and not inviting all stakeholders to participate is not a recipe for sound policy making. 

Early indications, based on reporting from AZ Central, on this legislation is that while the Grand Canyon State’s public schools will receive about $215 million more in overall education funding, there will be winners and losers if this new system takes hold. Charter schools and affluent districts would fare well if they chose the new funding formula. Poorer districts, especially in rural areas (the ones that need the help the most) may not be as fortunate.

Schools that opt into this new funding system would have to forgo tools that they have used in the past like gaining more funds through bonds and budget override elections. They would also have to reform their transportation formulas and could no longer pay teachers extra based on their experience.

Reaction to the Republican Rush to Change the School Funding System without Significant Time or Input.

Reacting to the lack of public time devoted to this important issue,  Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman posted on social media:

Arizona Democratic Party Chair Raquel Teran commented:

“Arizona’s public schools are sick and tired of being politicians’ bargaining chips. Rep. Udall is once again proving why Republicans cannot be trusted to be good-faith negotiators, especially when issues as critical as school funding are on the line.”

House Education Ranking Member and Legislative District 17 State Representative Jennifer Pawlik relayed:

“Do we need an update to our school finance formula? Yes, we do. I talked about it at a panel I was on for the Flinn-Brown fellows last fall. I said it was the most important thing that needed to be addressed. However, it is NOT appropriate to make changes to our statewide funding formula in the manner we have seen today. It is frustrating that the majority party is okay with rushing major legislation through without contemplative collaboration with school finance experts. Obvious stakeholders were not included in the development of the bill language. The hearing was rushed as well; just 30 minutes were permitted for consideration of a 101- page strike everything amendment that became publicly available late last week. Ranking member Kelli Butler was shut down because she was asking too many questions. The Chair of the Education Committee explained the bill isn’t perfect, it still needs work. My question is why then, are we rushing a massive bill that is NOT READY?”

Children’s Action Alliance Head David Lujan wrote:

“Allowing only 30 minutes of discussion on major changes to the way public schools are funded is inexcusable. They are afraid to take public testimony because they know their policies cannot withstand public scrutiny. It’s the same reason they are planning to do a “repeal and replace” scheme for their tax cuts for the rich. They know their tax cuts for the rich will not survive a public vote in November so they are trying to knock down the referendum that Arizona voters worked so hard to get the signatures for last November. But in the end, Arizona voters will have the final say on all of their games when they elect a new legislature and Governor this November.”

Scottsdale Schools Governing Board Candidate Mary Gaudio wrote:

“While I do believe that Arizona’s school funding formula in need of an overhaul, the rushed effort to get it pushed through this session without input from traditional education groups is very alarming.

A For Arizona is the organization that produced the study that is behind this bill. It is an organization that clearly seeks to grab more public tax dollars for private enterprise, as one can gather just by reading the report’s introduction:

“Many of the facts in that report (completed in 2016) have not changed. We revisit them now as parents and educators work frantically to get every student into a learning environment that does more than hide them from COVID, but instead feeds their talents and ignites their academic and social-emotional development.

This is easier to do when students are equitably funded and not cheated out of revenue because of their zip code or choice of school; and when we fund what works more aggressively than failure.

Funding disparities that range from a few hundred dollars per student to as much as $10,000 or more per student are compounded when multiplied by classroom, school, and revenue accumulation during the course of a student’s K-12 career.

In this paper we seek to highlight the public funding mechanics that make these disparities possible and to suggest some strategies that restore some amount of fairness to funding and the opportunity to earn funding.”

While I have not had the opportunity to read the 101 page bill, the study claims that tailoring school funding to the student will move “towards equity, innovation, great outcomes, and helping schools pay for growing demand.” How is this funding mechanism equitable given that all charter schools would benefit from the increase in the base amount of money the state would provide for public K-12 schools, while an estimated 121 school districts would lose money, primarily in rural communities? Students in lower income communities will be the biggest losers of all.

The only real winner in this proposal seems to be charter schools, with the possible exception of district schools in more affluent areas that could absorb the higher property tax rates to cover a “participatory fee” in the program.

One final observation – Emily Anne Gullickson, the founder and CEO of A for Arizona, is an inaugural fellow in R Street Institute’s Foundations of Conservative Policymaking Fellowship and a member of the American Enterprise Institute Leadership Institute. R Street and American Enterprise Institute are both right-leaning, free enterprise think tanks. That should tell us all we need to know about why this proposal is being rushed through without the input from traditional education groups.

This proposed funding formula may be the final blow to our district public schools. The goal all along has been to privatize education.”

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