"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" is how Robert Frost opens his famous poem about choosing the "road not taken," and Arizona is now staring down two different paths when it comes to the future of education funding. Let’s hope state leaders take the less-traveled road because the regularly-traveled one is a road to nowhere.
The regularly-traveled path is to increase funding for schools and ask for nothing in return. Last fall, state voters soundly defeated a proposition that would have burdened Arizona with a significant tax increase that wasn’t guaranteed to increase classroom funding or teacher pay and would have shelled out funds for all sorts of special interest projects. This wasn’t the first time voters had been faced with such a proposition (the third in the last decade, in case you’re counting), so if history is any guide, we may see such a smorgasbord of education funding increases and special interest projects sometime again.
Arizona should steer clear of this path and reward schools based on student achievement. SB 1444 would create an incentive funding program for school districts and charter schools. Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Yee, schools can earn up to $500 per pupil for high scores or significantly improved scores on the state test.
While not perfect, this method rewards schools for student success, the direction in which we should be moving in the first place.
Arizona still needs to improve the A-F grading system for schools because those grades and performance funding are closely related. In the 2011-12 school year, more schools earned an “A” on their state report card, but a Department of Education analysis found that only 7 percent of Arizona high school seniors in 2012 earned scores on a college admissions test that indicated they would earn a C or better in college classes. Giving a school an A that is graduating students who barely have a chance in college is a disservice to students and their parents. For SB 1444 to adequately serve students, we must continue to refine our school grading process.
But if Arizona leaders are to deal with school funding at all, they should at least focus the funding on student achievement and not the well-worn path of throwing money at schools.
Arizona State Legislature: SB 1444
Office of Janice K. Brewer: Executive Budget Recommendation Power Point
Arizona Republic: More Arizona schools earn an A from state
Bartleby.com: The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost