carey school - graduate

Creating high performance schools

A central part of this year’s state budget debate is over Governor Brewer’s Performance Funding proposal for district and charter schools. Her plan helps ensure that tax investment in our schools yields measurable results.

Employers from across the state have fought against across-the-board cuts to our K-12 system, and we’ve supported the governor’s budget request to help make new, more rigorous standards successful. But we cannot support millions of dollars in additional new funding without some exchange for true accountability. Lest we forget, the voters agreed with this premise last November when they overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have raised taxes for education, but with little oversight in how the dollars would be spent.

A modern school funding system should be based on transparency, giving parents the information they need to choose schools and to choose communities in which to live and work. And the job creators we work hard every day to keep and recruit deserve a system that makes clear that our elected leaders are serious about excellent educational outcomes that prepare today’s kids for tomorrow’s jobs.

For more than a decade we have been building and adjusting such a system. We started with school accountability that tells us how schools and districts perform. We articulate this information using the same A-F letter grades that our students receive. More recently, Arizona implemented a teacher and principal evaluation system to ensure schools intervene with struggling educators, amplify the impact of high performing teachers and engage all educators in between.

These and other mechanisms implemented thus far seem to be moving the needle in most schools and providing the kind of transparency education hawks have demanded. But some persistent challenges remain. With billions of taxpayer dollars going to fund our K-12 system, Arizonans are demanding accountability that doesn’t just advertise performance, but also predicates some amount of schools’ annual funding – particularly hard-to-get new resources – on learning outcomes.

In response, the governor is proposing a first-of-its-kind model for schools to earn more funding than they currently receive. What’s really revolutionary is that a small amount of their current funding will be on the line as well. This percentage will grow over the course of the next five years.

Under Gov. Brewer’s plan, districts and charters at all performance levels can earn new dollars for improving their outcomes. For schools that reach state performance levels, even more money can be earned. But the greatest earning potential is in doing more than before, rather than being rewarded for perpetuating the status quo, the theme of the current funding model.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called for a redesign of the education funding system that provides the right incentives to focus on outcomes rather than just seat time. The governor has proposed a modest move towards such a model. For fiscal year 2014, 1 percent of total funding is set aside for this model, reaching 5 percent at the end of five years.  One third of the funding would be from existing revenue, but nearly two thirds – more than $150 million by Year Five – would be new funding that all schools and districts would have an opportunity to earn simply by showing improvement.

A variety of reforms have been tried over the years and more will be tried during our time and after. Not all of them will work, but not trying at all is unacceptable. Combined with new standards, Gov. Brewer’s Performance Funding plan provides the right amount of tension in the system to move Arizona schools to the next tier.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is committed to advancing Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy by advocating free-market policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all Arizonans.