Reason Foundation’s Arizona K-12 Funding Reform Model is now available for education advocates to explore potential school finance policy solutions in real-time.
You can explore the interactive model here: Arizona K-12 Funding Reform Model
Arizona’s K-12 funding system is broken, with research showing the state’s highest property-wealth school districts generate $5,599 per pupil more on average than their lower-wealth counterparts. For instance, Queen Creek Unified School District gets 184% more per student than Isaac Elementary School District due to factors that have nothing to do with student needs. Matthew Ladner, director of the Arizona Center for Student Opportunity, also notes that nearly one-third of districts receive at least twice as much funding per-pupil as Snowflake Unified, Arizona’s lowest-funded district.
But gaping differences in funding levels aren’t the only problem. Equally as important is the fact that the school finance system—a relic of the 1980s—wasn’t designed to support an education ecosystem with robust school choice for families. With 21% of Arizona’s K-12 public school students now attending charter schools and many more exercising open enrollment, it makes little sense to continue tying dollars to local property wealth and the whims of low-turnout revenue elections.
Over the past decade, the number of charter students in the state has nearly doubled yet, on average, students in charters receive $1,308 less per pupil compared to school districts and not all dollars follow students across district boundaries when families decide to transfer, leaving hundreds of thousands of students shortchanged. Reason Foundation’s Christian Barnard summarizes Arizona’s situation perfectly:
“School choice is becoming mainstream, and that’s great news. But before long, states will also need to grapple with updating school-finance formulas that fail to fund all kids fairly, are too reliant on local taxes, and don’t easily accommodate student movement between schools.”
Unfortunately, school finance reform is a daunting task for state legislators even when there’s widespread agreement on its merits. For example, it was only after years of deliberation that Tennessee finally adopted a student-centered funding system this past May, and until recently Texas was allocating billions of dollars each year through its Cost of Education Index, which adjusted funding using demographic data from 1989-1990.
The reality is that politics is deeply ingrained in public education, and calls for greater equity only get you to the start line of the funding reform marathon. Many policymakers just want to know: how would a policy affect my school district’s bottom lines?
This type of information can be tough to come by, which is why Reason Foundation’s education policy team developed the Arizona K-12 Funding Reform Model. This tool, which streamlines several datasets into one dynamic interface, allows policymakers and advocates to explore complex policy solutions in real-time, including the estimated impacts on 226 school districts and 427 charter schools, and the state’s K-12 budget. Users can explore myriad combinations of reforms including adjustments to special education weights, changes to the base level amount, and the effects of replacing local levies with state dollars.
Our team mapped three reform scenarios, which are discussed here, to help users get started.
But this is only the start, as we aim to revise our model over time to reflect updated data, stakeholder feedback, and innovative policy solutions. Arizona’s K-12 funding system is in desperate need of repair, and stakeholders should be empowered with the tools needed to get reforms across the finish line. To learn more or to schedule a training, please e-mail Ari.DeWolf@reason.org.