A for Arizona, a group focused on K-12 policy reforms to improve access to a high-quality education, released a white paper recently that explores the disparities in education funding across Arizona public schools.
Despite Arizona laws since 1980 requiring that state tax dollars broadly follow students rather than school systems, voter-approved supplementary funding from local property taxes have nonetheless created disparities in education funding between the state’s communities.
Supplementary school funding from local property taxes varies widely from neighborhood to neighborhood depending on local property values and the number of voter-approved spending increases.
“Some of the largest funding disparities are between school districts where taxpayers build and improve schools and those districts where the will or wealth to do so does not exist,” the report said. Total funding from local “override elections” approving supplemental funding for schools totaled nearly $700 million.
Rural school districts, such as Lake Havasu Unified School District, only received 63% of the funding per student that Phoenix Union High School District received in fiscal year 2020. Maricopa and Pima counties are the only counties in the state where voters in more than half of districts have approved “override funding.”
Additionally, despite Arizona being on the leading edge of education innovation, Arizona students attending public charter schools often receive less state funding than their peers attending traditional public schools.
According to A for Arizona, public charter schools in fiscal year 2020 received $1,308 less per student than public school districts, on average.
“Our kids need us now more than ever to create the best conditions for their future, and that requires changing how we fund students and demanding high quality education for all,” said A for Arizona Founder and CEO Emily Anne Gullickson. “Every child in rural, urban, and suburban Arizona deserves an education that sets them up for success.”
The report recommends non-voter-approved base funding for schools to be standardized among charter and district schools. Base funding for schools is appropriated by the state, however, disparities remain between public charter and public district schools. For example, charter schools receive no funding for facilities, while district schools in 2020 received nearly $1.5 billion.
The paper also recommends that the state offer a new opt-in funding formula that accounts for disparities in overall funding between school districts and charter schools and among different school districts in the state. The report recommends that Arizona incorporate results-based funding into the funding formula. Schools would be rewarded for achieving better results by ensuring the money goes directly to the school rather than a governing board. This funding would continue to recognize results at the state’s low-income schools by providing increased tiered funding based economic indicators.
Lastly, the report recommends the state reassess transportation funding and create a more flexible model. Currently, not all funding allocated for transportation is required to fund transportation. Districts with reduced need for transportation funding still receive the same funding they previously received under the “Transportation Revenue Control Limit”, which now totals nearly $200 million.
Chamber Business News in November reported on an $18 million grant to modernize K-12 transportation throughout Arizona, administered by A for Arizona.
The state Senate last week passed a bill to modernize K-12 student transportation and give educational providers greater flexibility in the vehicles in their fleets.
Author: Arjun Rondla is an undergraduate studying political science and international trade at Arizona State University and an intern at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.