School expansion fueled by funding for high quality schools

On a 109-degree Tucson day, students and families flooded into a once-vacant school on the city’s east side Monday.

Propelled by a boost from Results-Based Funding, which provides additional dollars to Arizona’s best schools with an emphasis on the top schools serving high poverty students, Sonoran Science Academy East purchased and renovated a permanent home for its K-8 students.

Just two miles away from its former site, the nine-acre campus has room for the ‘A’-rated school to grow. This year the school added 180 students. Next year, they’ll add 100 more to hit their 600-student charter cap.

“At Sonoran Schools, we are dedicated to providing a high-quality STEM education to students in low-income communities,” said Faith Karatas, Chief Executive Officer of the 2,700-student charter school network. “Results-Based Funding has enabled us to provide more low-income students in southeast Tucson an opportunity to receive an ‘A’-rated education, in a neighborhood where they can walk to school, and where the school will be an active community partner and resource.”

Results-Based Funding incentivizes public schools – traditional district, magnet, and charter – to grow their impact and serve more students. Approved by lawmakers in 2016, Results-Based Funding provides $225 per student to the top 10 percent of schools in the state, and $400 per student to the top 10 percent of schools with more than 60 percent of students who quality for free or reduced priced lunch.

“We have great schools in my district. While some folks have mixed feelings about recognizing excellence in public education, I love it. It honors the work of great teachers and principals in rural Arizona. I believe it helps us keep teachers,” said state Representative Drew John, whose district covers Greenlee, Graham, Cochise and eastern Pima counties.

The legislation directs funding to the schools that earned the revenue. The majority of funding must be directed to teacher salaries, but schools can use the remainder to support lower achieving schools and costs of expanding.

At Congress Elementary School District, a single school rural district north of Wickenburg, the ‘A’-rated low-income school used the funding on salaries.

“With a small school, there is a fair amount of latitude around the budget. Our administrative costs are 40 percent below our peer districts, and we channel most of our budget specifically towards instruction,” said Congress Elementary School District Superintendent Stephanie Miller. “We decided to dedicate Results-Based Funding to our staff as a way to thank them for all of the hard work they do. It really boosted morale.”

Megan Gilbertson

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