For many years, school funding has been at the forefront of conversations at the state Capitol. Over the past few years, the legislature has added funding to restore cuts from the Great Recession, increased teacher pay and made several one-time investments. Despite these good efforts, a long-term solution that supports early education, K-12 education and postsecondary education and training is still missing.
Right now, the legislators are considering multiple proposals that could change how our education system is funded, and some of them could infuse new dollars into our education system. Specifically, they are considering a “grand bargain” that could invest upward of $900 million into the K-12 system, but at the same time may expand school vouchers and leaves out any solution for early education and postsecondary education.
They are also considering a bill (Senate Bill 1269), with little engagement from school leaders, that would change the K-12 funding formula that would result in funding cuts to many school districts, especially those in rural communities like ours.
“Decisions as important as school finance should have stakeholders at the table to get a full 360 view of the situation, problems and possible outcomes,” says Jacqui Clay, Cochise County school superintendent.
Rather than focusing on one-time investments, tweaks to the formula and tradeoffs, we need a long-term solution that meets the goals in the Arizona Education Progress Meter, a set of goals supported by business, education and community leaders across the state.
This is especially important now, as the legislature considers how to spend a $5.27 billion projected surplus. As they do, we’d advocate for a long-term solution that:
Creates a comprehensive approach: A funding proposal should include early education, K-12 education and postsecondary education, including things such as increasing access to quality pre-K for 3-and 4-year olds, fully funding kindergarten and providing scholarships to low-income students to earn a degree or credential.
Supports low-income students: Additional funding should be allocated to support the needs of low-income students, who require more supports to be successful in school.
Provides long-term solutions: A long-term solution is needed for the Aggregate Expenditure Limit for K-12 and community colleges, which limits the ability for schools and community colleges to spend the money they already have. Additionally, Prop. 123 will expire in 2025, which will lead to a drop in K-12 funding of more than $300 million a year. A long-term funding solution should solve for both of these items.
Recruits and retains educators: Educator recruitment and retention should be prioritized, with a focus on early education and K-12 education.
Supports students with disabilities: Significant state funding should also be allocated to support students with disabilities to get the education they need to be successful today and into the future.
Creating this long-term solution isn’t a far-off goal, it is something that can and should be done now and will pay dividends to our future workforce and economic success. Sonya Rodriguez, board president of the Sierra Vista Parents’ Coalition, says, “Education funding is a social issue and when we don’t get it right, our economies and our communities suffer.”
AUTHOR: Douglas Education Partnership Council