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It’s high time for school finance redesign

Funding Arizona’s K-12 public schools is on the mind of every educator, most policymakers, and business leaders — those who count on a ready workforce. The Arizona Business & Education Coalition (ABEC) presents a set of proposals to redesign the school finance system entirely, to support increasingly higher levels of learning in all public schools.

These proposals are intended to be adopted together,  phased in over time and led by the following principles and definitions:

Fairness for all students and taxpayers, minimizing the relationship between property wealth or the type of school attended and resources for students;  considering the needs of students with unique challenges; and creating balanced and steady revenue streams for education.

Sufficiency of resources to educate all students to the expectations stated in the state and federal school accountability system and meet all statutory requirements.

Flexibility for districts and schools in the use of resources, providing money in a “lump sum” that allows for maximum flexibility, creativity, and experimentation by districts and schools but ties flexibility to a set of meaningful fiscal and academic accountability measures.

Rewards innovation and efficiencies, promoting rewards to individuals, groups, or schools that show significant measureable growth in student learning and removes barriers to the effective and efficient use of resources.

Transparency in all aspects of the system, providing accessible, meaningful and useful information to the public and all stakeholders on how money is spent and is open to analyses and publication about effective uses of resources for increasing student learning.

Underlying these proposals is the following set of raised expectations with desired outcomes that are ambitious, clearly defined and measurable so all Arizonans can share in the responsibility of raising and achieving such high expectations.

A comprehensive data system that will do the following:

• Link performance to student enrollment, staffing and expenditure information; to pre-school and higher education; and to other states.

• Automatically generate required reports, and report total dollars in addition to staffing for individual schools.

• Replace current disconnected enrollment, financial and HR systems.

The state revenue structure must link tax policy to the values held by Arizonans, address the long-term needs of the state and its citizens and specify how the state will support public education sufficiently for steadily growing levels of student achievement.

The evidence-based approach to establishing the funding level should be used so that funding is not arbitrary but based on fully implementing — over time — research and evidence-based strategies and adaptable to reflect emerging evidence from the field.

District flexibility in use of funding is allowed with all funding for instruction, materials (including books and technology), administration, maintenance of buildings, and transportation respecting local control on behalf of student learning.

District accountability for results must be established through a set of guidelines reducing flexibility on the use of resources for districts and schools that fail to meet higher expectations. The guidelines will require the use of evidence-based strategies as identified in the EVA.

Costs of new school construction and renewal will be shared through a statewide equalization formula, comprised of state and local monies, to fund the physical plant needs for new district schools and the renewal and renovation of existing buildings, through the School Facilities Board.

For a full description of each proposal, visit www.azbec.org

— Susan Carlson is the executive director of the Arizona Business & Education Coalition.

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