Proposals for overhauling Arizona school funding unveiled
PHOENIX (AP) — A panel Gov. Doug Ducey charged with examining ways to improve and simplify public education financing issued a report Wednesday that recommends a complete overhaul of K-12 school funding in Arizona while issuing pointed remarks that current state funding is inadequate.
The reports contains 12 major recommendations from the Classrooms First Initiative Council, starting with replacing the current K-12 school funding method with a single simplified formula for all public schools and allocating funds using a lump-sum formula. The council also recommends consolidating property tax rates and reducing reliance on property tax overrides.
Another key recommendation is an across-the-board teacher salary increase to address the shortage of classroom instructors, boosting pay differentials for teachers in rural schools, expanding teacher loan forgiveness programs and streamlining certification requirements.
Ducey told reporters that he will ask for additional money for schools in the budget proposal he releases next month, but he pushed back on questions about the council’s call for additional funding.
“We are not going to measure our success by funding alone,” he said. “We’re going to measure it by results and outcomes in the classrooms. We’ve got some evidence that what we’re doing in Arizona is improving, especially in comparison to other states on reading and math and science.”
The report comes nearly 18 months after Ducey appointed the panel and charged its members with coming up with ways to overhaul the state’s complex K-12 public school financing laws.
Jim Swanson, a businessman who chaired the committee, said just bringing teacher salaries up to the national median could cost $500 million to $700 million a year and addressing funding needs for students with special needs could reach $450 million a year.
“I think it’s loud and clear that the sense of the council is that you probably can’t achieve certain things without increasing funding for schools,” Swanson said. “The council is concerned with the adequacy of funding overall. You heard the comments that I made about teacher pay, about the progress meter, the aid measure, which is where we stand against the national median. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The school financing proposals will need face tough scrutiny if Ducey formally adopts them as a legislative proposal, because each change is likely to affect schools in either positive or negative ways. The current system was developed in the early 1980s and has been repeatedly tweaked since then. In addition, tight state budgets mean there likely won’t be much extra money to address some of the key findings short of a proposal to create new tax revenue, something directly acknowledged in the report.
The state spends about $4 billion in general fund money a year on K-12 schools, a huge chunk of the current $9.6 billion spending plan. Local property taxes and federal funding boosting that total to nearly $10 billion. Still, Arizona schools are among the lowest-funded in the nation on a per-pupil basis.
The report also noted that it didn’t address three major school funding issues: The 2020 expiration of a voter-approved sales tax that provides about $450 million a year for schools; major cuts in funding for school construction and other capitol projects; and what happens when a boost in state trust land revenue outlays approved by voters this year expires in a decade.
Ducey said he plans to address the school construction in January, but the other two will wait.
“This is a huge amount of funding, and those are really big issues that need to be addressed. But we have time on two of those three issues,” he said. “On the first one we’re going to address a next step in the budget, and we’ll lay the groundwork on the next two as well.”