Gov’s plan rewards higher-income students vs. lower-income ones - AZEdNews
Sections    Tuesday March 28th, 2023

Gov’s plan rewards higher-income students vs. lower-income ones

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to provide more funds for high-performing schools would benefit charter schools that graduate on average less than 100 students a year, not district schools which graduate on average more than three times as many students.

Sixty-five percent of the $38 million results-based funding proposed in the governor’s budget would go to schools in middle- and higher-income areas, with just 35 percent going to schools in low-income areas. Twenty-six percent would to go charter schools with 12 percent of that going to schools in the Basis and Great Hearts chains, according to an analysis in The Arizona Republic.

The plan is under scrutiny as legislators continue to develop the state budget, which could be ready in a matter of weeks.

A chart released by the Arizona School Boards Association this week lists Arizona’s top 50 high schools as ranked in US News & World Report, shows their most recent four-year graduation rates according to the Arizona Department of Education, and using data from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, lists the estimated amount they would receive from Ducey’s results-based funding proposal.

US News released its top high schools list earlier this week. Nine of the 16 charter schools on the list, or 56 percent, would receive results-based funding under the plan, while only five of the 34 district schools on the list, or 14 percent, would.

Gov’s plan rewards higher-income students vs. lower-income ones US-News-HS-and-Results-Base-Funding-Rev4_27

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“What this graph highlights is the importance of scale,” said Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Boards Association.

Arizona’s top 50 high schools graduated 13,778 students in 2015, the most recent year that statistics are available. Of those students, 94 percent graduated from district high schools and 6 percent of students graduated from charter schools.

“BASIS is receiving a lot of attention for its top spots in the rankings and that’s great, but collectively the five BASIS schools graduated just over 200 students, according to the latest data,” Aportela said. “Even if we invested in them, as the governor wants to do, they will have to multiply five-fold to reach 1,000 graduates, and 25-fold to reach 5,000 graduates.”

“On the other hand, there are high-quality Arizona high schools on this US News ranking list, graduating 500, 600, 700 students each year,” Aportela said. “If we want to invest where it makes the most difference, I’d look to schools that have demonstrated high achievement at the scale necessary to make a difference statewide.”

The demographics of the Top 50 Schools show that many serve predominantly white students with just seven serving a majority Latino students and BASIS’s five schools serving mostly Asian students.

Arizona’s public school enrollment overall is 40 percent Latino and 2.3 percent Asian, according to the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction’s annual report.

The plan

To qualify for the results-based funding plan, schools in low-income areas would need to have 60 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals and 41 percent of students pass standardized math and language arts tests. Schools in higher-income areas would need 65 percent of students to pass those tests.

Ducey said during his State of the State address in January that this plan would help high performing schools throughout the state. Yet, just three of the schools that would benefit from the plan serve students outside the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas, according to the chart.

Defining high achieving schools

Another thing to consider is the criteria used to determine which schools are high-achieving, Aportela said.

“The governor’s results-based funding is using only AzMERIT scores, so you get one set of schools,” Aportela said. “Once you introduce other measures, which the US News & World Report ranking does, you get a different set of top ranking schools.”

This is important, because Arizona’s new A-F system was approved Monday by the Arizona State Board of Education, and it will be used to rate public schools’ performance as early as next fall with results available then at

The new A-F school accountability plan places more weight on students’ academic growth than their test scores, and schools can earn points for students’ college and career readiness, reducing chronic student absences,  and closing the achievement gap between students from higher- and lower-income families.

This system gives “any school in Arizona the opportunity to receive a higher level rating,” said Calvin Baker, superintendent of the Vail School District and a member of the state board and the A-F rating committee, in an Arizona Daily Star article.

A great deal of work was put into developing the A-F rating system, because “the criteria you use is going to matter in who gets a good rating,” Aportela said.

“Building something that’s fair and accounts for what is in schools’ control is important,” Aportela said.