Results-based funding largely bypasses schools serving high percentages of students of color and low-income families, according to an analysis of fiscal year 2019 data from the Arizona Department of Education.
Results-based funding rewards schools whose students show strong academic achievement, but education advocates say a poverty weight added to the state’s education funding formula would more equitably help students of color and from low-income families close the achievement gap with their peers.
Results-based funding reinforces systemic racism and the achievement gap in public schools, said Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research for Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Boards Association, who did the data analysis.
Results-based funding should recognize that some schools have a much tougher job than others; reward improvements and what schools can control, not demographics; take into consideration test scores have serious limitations as a measure of school quality; and be layered on top of an appropriate level of education funding not be instead of an appropriate level of education funding – Dr. Anabel Aportela
Arizona students by race – Courtesy Dr. Anabel Aportela
Arizona’s public K-12 schools that earn an A or B grade from the State Board of Education qualify for a per-pupil amount of results-based funding based on their percentage of students participating in the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program – an indicator of poverty or low-family income.
More than 62 percent of Arizona’s 1.08 million students are students of color, yet they make up slightly more than 41 percent of students in A-rated schools and nearly 58 percent of those in B-rated schools which receive results-based funding, according to the data.
Yet, more than 78 percent of students of color go to C-rated schools, nearly 83 percent attend D-rated schools, and more than 88 percent are in F-rated schools, according to the data analysis.
“Results-based funding provides more money to schools with A ratings, which are mostly based on high standardized test scores, which we know are better measures of students’ economic background than schools’ performance,” Dr. Aportela said.
Grades of Arizona public schools that students attend by race – Courtesy Dr. Anabel Aportela
“The expansion of results-based funding to B schools does expand the reach and the cost of the policy, but the likelihood and amount of funding can still be largely predicted by the demographics of the school,” Dr. Aportela said. “It does not address the underlying systematic negative effects on students.”
Also, slightly more than 28 percent of the $435 million in results-based funding was distributed schools with less than 10 percent of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunch, nearly 18 percent went to schools with no free- and reduced-price lunch data, and nearly 15 percent went to schools with 10 to 19 percent of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunch, according to the data.
Meanwhile, slightly more than 1.6 percent of results-based funding was distributed to schools with 90 percent or more of students receiving free- and reduced-price lunch, 3.6 percent to schools with 80 to 89 percent, and 7.3 percent to schools with 70 to 79 percent.
Results-based funding by school’s percentage of students receiving free-and reduced-price lunch and by race – Courtesy Dr. Anabel Aportela
“If you can predict the results by how many poor and minority students are enrolled in schools, which we largely can, then I call that systematic,” Dr. Aportela said.
“The policy reinforces the notion that schools serving specific groups of students are inherently better, and by giving those schools more money, the achievement gaps between white and minority students become even wider,” Dr. Aportela said.
Poverty weight vs. results-based funding
One way to help schools serving more students from low-income families or with greater needs is to get “some investment into the formula or a weighted system for students who are experiencing poverty,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.
School funding formulas are intended to fund the operation of schools — teachers, buildings, transportation, and more.
“Formulas also often recognize the additional cost of specific items, like special education programs, or lack of economies of scale in very small schools,” Dr. Aportela said.
“Additional funding for poor students, who are often academically behind their peers even before they start school, would provide schools the resources needed to help students catch up academically,” Dr. Aportela said.
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This year, Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Sylvia Allen introduced Senate Bill 1060 that would have done something similar to a poverty weight for special education students.
Senate Bill 1060 would have increased special education funding based on services schools provide instead of funding every special education student in a category at the same level. While the House approved Senate Bill 1060 on February 25, the bill was held in the House of Representatives after its second reading before the Arizona Legislature recessed on March 23 due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
“Some states do have a poverty or at-risk weight in their funding formulas. This can be based on poverty, language, foster care, or migrant (status),” Dr. Aportela said.
“We don’t have a poverty weight in Arizona, but other states do,” Dr. Aportela said. “We do have some funding for English language learners, which is a good start.”