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Op-ed: Arizona K-12 funding formula antiquated, shortchanges charter and other students

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Over four decades ago, the State of Arizona instituted “equalization funding” in order to balance funding amounts for public schools across the state.

Unfortunately, the state’s practice has never lived up to this promise. And Arizona students are losing out.

Consider students who attend public charter schools. On average, they receive $2,300 less in total funding than their district peers – a gap that has widened in recent years.

The problem isn’t limited to the financial disparity between district and charter schools, however. Even within the same county, there are Arizona district schools that receive half or less of the per-pupil funding provided to other district schools.

How is this possible?

One culprit is that there is a wide variation of funding via bond and override ballot measures. Naturally, some communities support bonds and overrides; others do not. And the financial gap between K-12 public students grows wider.

School funding via the ballot box also helps explain how charter schools have financially fallen behind. Public charter schools have no geographic boundary and no tax base, meaning they cannot utilize a bond increase or override in order to pay for capital projects, school programs and other needs. Instead, if a charter entity wants to build a new school – for example – it must secure private financing or pay for the project some other way. While public charter schools receive additional dollars via the State, they have no access to local property taxes.

There are many other discrepancies as well. Another example is that some school districts are eligible for additional state funding to employ more experienced and highly-compensated teachers. This funding – known as the Teacher Experience Index – is not made available to charter schools.

These issues stem from an antiquated state funding formula that never contemplated the arrival of public charter schools or, frankly, district open enrollment. The result: even as Arizona charter schools continue to excel in the classroom, they have fallen further behind their district counterparts when it comes to total funding for teacher compensation, capital construction and school programs. The current funding system is also not fair to many district schools.

This is a matter of basic fairness. It is time for Arizona school finance reform to modernize the funding formula and equalize funding for all students, regardless of which public school they attend.

Arizona’s public district and charter schools deserve nothing less.

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