Butcher: Arizona must update the education finance formula - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Butcher: Arizona must update the education finance formula

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Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 9:12 am

On April 4, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed an expansion to Arizona’s education savings account program and drew attention to a subject that affects all Arizona educators and students.

Originally passed in 2011, the savings account program provides families of students with special needs a bank account worth 90 percent of a student’s state funding as calculated by the state finance formula. Parents can use the funds for a variety of education expenses, including tutoring services, textbooks, online classes or even private school tuition. This freedom allows parents to customize their child’s education.

The bill would have expanded eligibility to students in chronically failing schools, academically gifted students, and children in military families.

In her veto, Gov. Brewer says education savings account students are funded twice in the first year of participation. Yet this double-funding is not unique to the savings accounts — it is caused by deficiencies in the state finance formula and can be avoided.

The weakness in the formula: Public schools report enrollment after the midpoint in the school year — but are funded in the next school year based on this count. Schools are paid for students they enrolled in the first 100 days of the previous school year, insulating them from enrollment changes due to grade promotion, the state’s open enrollment law or any school choice program. The result is an inefficient, imprecise system that supports one-size-fits all public schools and forces taxpayers to pay twice for students in some cases.

It’s this funding model, not reforms like education savings accounts, that causes inefficiencies such as the double funding of students once they transfer.

Arizona already funds charter schools based on current enrollment counts, and there is still time this session to apply this model to education savings account students, too. The policy can be structured so that the state does not count students twice. The sooner we move to a funding system that funds students based on their current choices in education, the sooner Arizona becomes an efficient model of education reform for the entire country.

This adjustment will save the state money and not interfere with parents’ ability to customize their child’s education with the savings account program.

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