Ham(m)er Time!: We can’t ignore educational excellence

State budget talks at the Arizona Capitol are entering a critical phase. Lawmakers are balancing their investment priorities with those of the governor, while fielding a barrage of spending requests from all corners. Meanwhile, critics are making their counterarguments, usually in good faith, but not always.

Take a top priority of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Results-Based Funding for K-12 education. We believe this funding model offers the best opportunity to sustain and expand great schools.

Over the past few years, lawmakers and voters have increased their commitment to public schools through the continued implementation of a 20 percent teacher pay raise by school year 2020, the continued restoration of funding for school district capital costs, the extension of Proposition 301 funding for teachers, and the adoption of Proposition 123 to help bolster classroom budgets, all policies we strongly supported.

Much of this funding to support our public school classrooms—the largest component of the state budget—comes from billions in property and income taxes generated by industry and Arizona workers. We expect results.

Accepting failure, or worse, ignoring excellence, is a strategy our economy, our students, and our state can no longer afford. Further, it isn’t necessary. Exemplars of educational success exist now to absorb that failure, but they aren’t a priority in the funding formula.

The stakes are high for ignoring these schools, and yet few initiatives have required more myth-busting than the effort to fund excellence.

Let’s look at the facts.

The K-12 funding formula dedicates extra dollars to individual student needs – special education, early literacy, English Learners. Until Results-Based Funding, not a single dollar went to schools and classrooms successfully closing the achievement gap for students.

Currently, all ‘A’-rated public schools earn Results Funding. This program is not targeted at just a handful of schools in tony areas. Public schools of all stripes are eligible: small, large, urban, rural, district and charter. This year’s proposed expansion would recognize 230 additional high-poverty schools making the biggest academic gains. In total, nearly 700 schools in 14 counties would qualify for Results-Based Funding under the expansion.

Claims that Results Funding is not going to schools that “need it the most” don’t hold water. The majority of the dollars will go to support schools that do what many of their colleagues say is impossible: close the achievement gap and help students get the education they need to break the cycle of poverty.

If you’re looking for schools that are climbing up the achievement ladder, look here.

A quick scan of districts in high-poverty neighborhoods will show that schools in the same school district, with the same funding, serving kids with the same life challenges, are getting dramatically different results. Yet, little to nothing is done to ensure the high performers can keep doing what they’re doing, or even more.

The Obama Administration sank billions into so-called School Improvement Grants to help states’ lowest performing schools. Their own research shows that most of the schools that received funding either stayed the same or actually got worse.

Tragically, when schools that receive those school improvement dollars actually improve, they’re no longer eligible to receive the extra funding that goes with low performance. Results-Based Funding will help stop what happens to communities like Ajo (population 3,300) when they move from an ’F’ to an ‘A’ and then, as a result, lose money only available to schools that persistently fail their kids.

And what about the group of schools that serve a low- or no-poverty student population? All parents work hard to find a good fit for their children and are not immune from having a neighborhood school that underserves their child’s potential. Imagine finding a better alternative for your child only to get stuck on a waitlist. I truly believe waitlists are a sign of failed public policy. For this reason, Results Funding is also intended to help more good schools meet demand.

Putting dollars towards expanding and sustaining excellent schools is somehow a radical idea in education funding. It shouldn’t be. We should expand Results-Based Funding to more schools doing the best work for Arizona students.

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

Glenn Hamer

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