For almost a decade, Arizonans have been working toward a comprehensive solution to the unfair and chronic underfunding of our schools.
Blue-ribbon panels representing business leaders, educators, and community members have worked together to agree on increasing school funding. Arizona’s top economists have researched the best potential funding models. The voters have spoken and supported increased school funding in local communities and statewide ballots.
Four years ago, various business, community and education organizations, asked Helios Education Foundation to convene a group of leaders across all sectors to forge a consensus on education funding from early education to postsecondary that ensured Arizona’s economy thrived. The consensus then and now is that Arizona needs a $1.5 billion investment in the P-20 continuum.
On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee will consider a “striker amendment” to SB 1269 that would make substantive changes to Arizona school funding and policy as the lawmakers rush to finish their session. The current proposal will introduce new uncertainties about how funding will be allocated and won’t fix the inadequate and inequitable funding that exists today.
Instead of deliberating carefully and listening to the public, the legislature is moving full steam ahead to adopt a solution that won’t solve Arizona’s school funding problems and could make them worse. Furthermore, the amendment has the potential to create confusion in schools at a time when our school leaders need stability and support.
The amendment on the table provides nominal increases for the base funding per pupil over inflation, but it also cuts out current supplemental funding based on teachers’ experience and overall compensation.
Worse, the amendment will not provide schools serving low-income students with additional money that they desperately need.
Over the past two years, our school leaders and teachers have adapted to every new challenge the global the pandemic has thrown at them. They’ve gone from inventing new ways to teach online to redesigning their schools for social distancing. And they’ve quickly returned to remote classes when a new wave of cases hit their communities.
The top priority for our school systems right now is to help students jump start their learning and academic progress after two years of disrupted learning. They don’t need to be distracted by a new school funding formula that will not address their needs and may require them to cut their budgets.
Instead of rushing a heavy-handed new approach, the legislature needs to listen to perspectives of key constituents.
Business leaders want schools to have adequate funding to prepare students for success in college and to be productive members of the workforce. Educators want the support they need to ensure students succeed. Parents want to know that their children will have access to high-quality teachers, challenging instructional materials, and buildings that are conducive to learning experiences.
Arizonans agree on the vision for their schools – and the legislature should work with them to deliver the funding in a way that is fair and prioritizes schools that need it the most.
Paul J. Luna is President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.