Yesterday the Governor’s Classrooms First Initiative Council fulfilled one of the Governor’s first promises he made in his inaugural state of the state speech by releasing an initial framework for change to Arizona’s school finance system. What the Council released yesterday is an exciting jumping off point from which to modernize our state’s complex and cumbersome system of school funding. This conversation is 35 years in the making and it is thrilling to see talk turning to action.
The Classrooms First Council convened in June with the charge to “ensure that every child – regardless of where they live – has access to an excellent education.” Council members appointed by the Governor met throughout the summer working toward a vision that “Arizona’s children will have access to a high quality education that promotes excellence and school choice and is equitably funded through a system of clarity, transparency, and recognition of results.” A for Arizona and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry are pleased to serve as consultants to the Council in providing policy assistance and expertise.
The Council’s policy framework centers around the theme of “clarity, transparency, and results.” First and foremost they call for a clear and equitable funding structure. This includes simplified and transparent funding formulas that are uniform across all public school systems and made readily available to the public. The Council specifically calls for annually publishing student funding formulas and making them available to parents, along with a website where they can calculate the dollars tied to their child.
With a further eye toward transparency, the Council sees a need to add rigor around school level budgeting and reporting that would apply to all district and charter schools. In particular, this would require financial information to be made available on school websites and would include revised annual financial reports and records. Broader budget definitions of classroom spending would also better capture where resources are allocated.
By focusing on clarity and transparency in education funding, anyone should be able to find out where state and local education resources are being spent and what achievement results we are getting in return. This is a huge step forward considering our current system is opaque at best and makes this type of apples to apples comparison between schools nearly impossible.
A central component of the Classrooms First framework that A for Arizona and the Arizona Chamber are particularly enthusiastic about is the concept of achievement weights. These are additional dollars for ‘A’-rated schools achieving excellence and those ‘B’ and ‘C’ schools demonstrating they are doing what it takes to significantly move toward ‘A’. These added dollars recognize the level of commitment it takes to maintain an ‘A’ grade and assigns greater weight to those ‘A’ schools serving low-income students. The inclusion of achievement weight funding shows a new commitment to invest in achievement rather than spend our precious resources on schools that continue to fail.
The Council’s final recommendations are due in December, but this preliminary framework is something to cheer. It signals that our governor is serious about re-setting the bar for all schools at excellent so that every student can receive a high quality education. Huge kudos are due to Jim Swanson, chair of Classrooms First, and the entire council, along with the various consulting organizations who worked together to align around a big vision. Here’s to moving forward and making excellence the new normal!