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Funding will help students prepare for careers

Recently, we were fortunate to participate in the “Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop” on education funding. In light of the state’s historic revenue growth, we wish to share what we and other K-12 leaders see as priorities to promote student achievement, address current challenges and support Arizona’s next decade of economic expansion and opportunity.

Over the last several years, Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature have added critical dollars to Arizona’s K-12 system, for which we are grateful.

That funding progress is now challenged by inflation and supply chain issues that add costs that far exceed annual inflation adjustment. The need for higher wages makes it more difficult to attract and retain talented personnel, already in short supply in a hot job market.

Despite these challenges, we are excited at the momentum building around teaching and learning innovation, workforce readiness and the statewide focus on improved outcomes for all students.

Record growth in state revenues gives policymakers a chance to make $1 billion in investments that Proposition 208 promised, without raising taxes, and will help us ensure Arizona students are ready for our tops-in-the-nation job market:

  • Add to base funding ($550 million). While making progress, Arizona must keep pace in its appropriations, and the current surplus is an opportunity to gain ground in providing much needed support. According to the most recent comparisons among states, Arizona appropriates $4,760 in base funding, with an average total spend of $8,785 per pupil. For perspective, 41 states – including those with which we compete for economic development projects, like Texas, spend more than $10,000 per pupil. In addition, $10 million should be considered to adjust for inflation in the district additional assistance line item.
  • Create new weights to help all students achieve ($200 million). Poverty affects some 300,000 Arizona children and is one of the biggest factors in student achievement. Yet Arizona is one of only eight states that does not account for student poverty in its education funding formula weights. Likewise, Arizona’s outdated special education weights grossly underfund the costs of educating students with special needs, creating additional challenges for small charters and small rural district schools. Boosts in these areas ensure all students get the additional resources they need to achieve.
  • Augment career and technical learning ($100 million). Apart from improving career prospects, access to career and technical education (CTE) has been found to improve graduation rates, reduce dropout rates and reduce behavioral problems related to suspensions and expulsions. Multi-year grants to districts, charters, and CTEDs let schools develop and expand programming, hire school counselors and create teams to intervene earlier with at-risk students and ultimately develop workforce skills.
  • Address capital and broadband needs ($200 million). One-time capital funding helps schools address delayed capital projects, provide technology for learning, replace transportation fleets and address ongoing capital improvements to keep students and staff safe.
  • Hit ‘reset’ on expenditure limit calculations. Outmoded language intended to insert accountability now creates bureaucratic obstacles that prevent schools from spending funds authorized by lawmakers. The aggregate expenditure limit needs to be recalculated, and where necessary, reconsidered by voters. Funding cliffs like Prop. 123 can be averted with early planning to continue funding for teacher raises.

Spending more on education is not an end in itself, but a means to improve student outcomes to ensure students are prepared for life beyond the classroom and to provide our booming economy with the skilled workforce needed to continue to thrive.

Arizona families, overwhelmingly, choose public schools for their children’s education, and we are proud to serve them. With state revenues at historic highs, policymakers at last can make the significant investments in K-12 education our public schools need – and that voters support- without raising taxes.

This commentary was written by Robbie Koerperich, superintendent of Holbrook Unified School District; Scott Menzel, superintendent of Scottsdale Unified School District; Melissa Sadorf, superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District; Gina Thompson, superintendent of Yuma Union High School District, and Gregory Wyman, superintendent of J. O. Combs Unified School District.


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