Arizona legislators head to the Capitol next week to begin a new session on issues that affect Arizona’s public schools, from funding to school quality. With a new poll recently released that shows Arizona voters want more support for teachers and schools, public education advocates may have some wind at their backs.
Look for in-depth coverage of these issues in upcoming editions of AZEdNews.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
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If voters approve Proposition 123 in the May 17, 2016, special election, it would add $3.5 billion over 10 years to K-12 public education, settle a five-year-old inflation funding lawsuit filed by public schools that didn’t receive that money during the Great Recession, and require annual inflation funding for schools to the Arizona Constitution, maintaining the permanence.
The measure was referred to Arizona voters by the Legislature in a September 2015 special session called by Gov. Doug Ducey, who is rallying support for its passage. Though no longer a legislative issue, it’s sure to figure in to debate about this year’s budget and other funding issues.
Funding for Career and Technical Education
Educators and business leaders are asking state legislators to undo a $30 million cut to CTE funding for school districts and JTEDs, specialized school districts that provide career and technical education.
The cut, which would be a permanent reduction, was passed last legislative session and is scheduled to take effect next school year.
If they are unsuccessful, per-pupil base funding that charters or districts receive for students enrolled in CTE, as well as JTED courses or satellite programs would drop to 92.5 percent of what they would have otherwise received.
The Arizona Legislature’s budget cuts in 2011 and in this session have reduced state funding for career and technical education by more than 53 percent, hurting programs developing high school students into a skilled workforce local businesses and industries need.
A-F Grades for Schools and Districts
Legislators will decide whether to change what makes district and charter schools earn an A or an F grade.
The previous A-F accountability system, which provided letter grades to all public schools and school districts, was suspended last year.
Revised accountability legislation, developed by the State Board of Education and Arizona Department of Education, was finalized in December.
In addition to using data from the state’s new AzMERIT assessment, the new system will also require multiple factors including academic progress on ELL assessments and progress toward college and career readiness including graduation rates to contribute to school and district letter grades.
The first round of new grades would be released in July 2017 and based on data from the 2016-2017 school year.
Current Year Funding
For more than three decades, annual funding for Arizona public schools has been based on the number of students enrolled the previous year.
Last year, legislators voted to change that, beginning next school year, to estimated enrollment in the current year.
The immediate impact, unless education advocates are successful in rolling it back as many seek to do, will be a reduction in funding for 149 school districts, or 64 percent of all Arizona districts, by a cumulative total of $40 million.
In contrast, 83 school districts will see a slight increase, a combined total of $7.2 million.
According to an Arizona Department of Education analysis of data from 2014-2015, the new law adversely impacts districts with declining enrollment.
Budgeting is also expected to become more complex, as schools also will need to develop budgets and possibly reduce or increase expenditures throughout the year, without having final counts of the number of students, special education students and English Language Learners until after the end of the fiscal year.
The Department of Education also said the change could possibly reduce budgeted override amounts, affect tuition paid by elementary school districts not within a union high school district, impact distributions from the classroom site fund and instructional improvement fund among other concerns.
Tax Dollars for Private Schools
Arizona public school advocates will continue to seek to raise financial and academic accountability and stop the expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which provide dollars from the state’s general fund directly to individual students who choose not to attend district or charter schools. In 2013 and in 2015, over 83 percent of ESA funds were spent on tuition to private schools.
Advocates are also trying to slow the legislated growth of the total amount of tax-free donations from corporations to private school student tuition organizations.
Preserving Funding for Equity
Last year legislators took aim at the additional local funding 20 Arizona school districts are able to access to increase racial and ethnic balance in their schools and provide equal access to high quality education.
This session, education advocates have made a high priority of preventing cuts or changes to desegregation funding, which provides for such supports as reduced class sizes and tutoring.
About 20 school districts across Arizona are able to levy higher property taxes as part of the desegregation funding agreement or court order made with the federal government decades ago.