The author of an unsuccessful bill to repeal Arizona’s “results-based” education funding and redirect the money toward early childhood education expressed a willingness to amend it if given another opportunity next session.

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, acknowledged the bill, which would move about $68.6 million toward early childhood education, had challenges.

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“If my bill were to move, I would want to actually amend it to phase (results-based funding) out,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t going to pass, I knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere and sure enough it didn’t, but if I were to run it again with the hopes that it actually did go through, I would amend it so that it would phase out so that districts and schools aren’t left struggling with this influx of money that they no longer have.”

Marsh sponsored the legislation, SB1231, last spring seeking to address what she saw as inequalities in the education system and to ensure that Arizona’s youngest learners receive the best possible start on their academic journey.

The bill proposed repealing Section 15-249.08 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, which outlines the “results-based funding” program.  It was assigned to the appropriations, education and rules committees but held there.

The program has long been a topic of debate, as it allocated funds to schools based on performance metrics, with critics arguing that it disproportionately favored schools with more affluent students, leaving those in underserved communities at a disadvantage.

Marsh stressed the importance of involving more stakeholder groups, such as education groups and policymakers, to improve the bill’s chances of success in addressing the needs of Arizona’s children and early childhood education.

The early literacy program fund, administered by the Department of Education, would have been expanded under the bill to provide support for pre-kindergarten students and those in kindergarten programs and grades one, two, and three.

The change would have ensured that young learners receive the necessary resources to develop their reading skills and literacy proficiency, Marsh said.

The new program was intended to help eligible schools improve reading proficiency among

pre-kindergarten and early elementary students. These schools would have beem awarded funds based on a per-pupil basis, calculated using the student count for pupils in Kindergarten programs and grades one, two, and three.

The eligible schools would have had to report on expenditures, results, and other essential information to ensure transparency and accountability.

Marsh emphasized the need for more equitable access to preschool, particularly for low-income children.

“As a state, we need to be closer to universal pre-K,” Marsh said. “My hope would be that it would go toward our most underprivileged kids and ensure that they have access to preschool.”

Furthermore, Senator Laura Terech, D-Scottsdale, a co-sponsor on the bill, emphasized the importance of early learning opportunities.

Terech, a former Kindergarten teacher, said preschool can provide a strong foundation for young students, enabling them to start their academic journey on a more level playing field.

“With results-based funding just as a concept, there are inequities that not every district and not every school has the same resources,” Terech said. “Funding based on results is doing a disservice to the reality of what our public education system looks like across the state, especially depending on where you are. I think if we are able to move that funding to some of our early childhood learning, that helps all of our students long-term.”

Amreah Hutchinson, an Arizona State University Elementary Education major, concurs with Terech’s perspective.

“Early education helps the students be more prepared for Kindergarten,” she said. “I wouldn’t have to teach them things like motor skills and a head start on their understanding of the curriculum.”

Furthermore, Hutchinson highlights the crucial role that early education plays in identifying disadvantaged children in the classroom at an earlier stage. 

This enables educators to provide tailored support and address potential learning gaps more effectively.