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“In Kyrene, our goal is always to build capacity district-wide, in order to benefit all students.”

Thirteen of Kyrene School District’s 25 campuses earned a total of more than $1.5 million in bonuses from the state Education Department through Arizona’s results-based funding for their performance in the recent AZMerit tests.

 But whether Kyrene or any district will get the full amount from the $72.3-million pool of money won’t be known until after the next legislative session, as the department said in a memo there is a 5 percent shortfall in what the districts and charter schools should get under the formula used to determine the bonuses.

“A supplemental appropriation to cover the shortfall, which would be subject to legislative approval, is currently being discussed and would likely be included in the second distribution of funds later in the fiscal year,” the memo said, referring to the fact schools entitled to the bonus get it in two installments.

“If the supplemental appropriation does not materialize, the shortfall will be allocated to each school district or charter district school based on its recalculated annual results-based funding allocation at the time of the second payment,” the memo said.

While the bonuses can be used in a variety of ways – including supplemental payments or salary increases for teachers at the school, Kyrene will be doing what it did last year: spread the wealth across all schools.

“It can also be used for professional development to replicate effective practices in student learning and achievement,” Superintendent Jan Vesely said in a message to parents. “In Kyrene, our goal is always to build capacity district-wide, in order to benefit all students.”

Schools and the total bonus each received are: Altadena Middle School, $238,280;  Estrella Elementary, $102,040; Mirada, $131,216.; Sierra, $114,698; Brisas, $143,189; Cerritos, $104,973; Lagos, $99,874; Ninos, $115,761; Cielo, $147,607; Norte, $99,066; Monte Vista, $141,769; and Kyrene Traditional Academy, $147,443.

Two other Ahwatukee schools also received a bonus. Horizon Honors Elementary was awarded $176,191 and BASIS Ahwatukeewill receive $162,064.

Horizon Honors handles its bonuses differently – to the benefit of teachers’ pocketbooks.

“We followed the guidelines and gave teacher and teacher assistant stipends,” Horizon spokeswoman Melissa Hartley said. “We also purchased technology for the classroom like chrome books and interactive display boards.”

Vesely last year conceded some teachers at schools qualified for the bonuses feel they’ve earned some extra pay. But she said school principals felt a more equitable approach – and one encouraging teacher development – would be to spread the money throughout the district.

High-performing schools in high-income areas get a bonus of $225 per student while $400 per student is awarded to high performing schools in lower-income areas. All the Kyrene recipients fit the former category.

The performance-based incentives are a source of contention between the Republican-controlled Legislature and public education advocates.

When Gov. Doug Ducey and the State Legislature adopted the program in 2017, $39-million was set aside, with supporters saying the money it would expand access to high-quality education for all students throughout Arizona and help lower-income students to close the achievement gap.

In the previous two fiscal years, about $39 million a year has gone to nearly 300 public schools, according to Arizona Education News, a service of the nonpartisan Arizona School Boards Association. In Fiscal Year 2020, the funding was increased by $30 million for a total of $68.6 million.

Arizona Education News analyzed the allocations for Fiscal Year 2019 and found 70 percent of the award money went to schools with less than 60 percent of its student population on the federal free- and reduced lunch program. 

Top-performing schools with 60 percent of their student population on the free and reduced lunch program got more money than those below the threshold.

The news service also discovered schools serving a high percentage of white students had more awards as did schools with fewer disabled students and English-language learners.

The Children’s Action Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization has been opposed to this funding formula, which it claimed has numerous inequities, including the “test-based funding reaches only one in four of Arizona’s public-school students” and nearly half of the funding went to higher-income schools.

Looking at the combined charter and public-school beneficiaries of the bonuses, the alliance found 74 percent of all students attend schools in high-income neighborhoods.

“Nothing in the initiative expanded access to high-quality schools or required any expansion of the schools getting the bonus,” the alliance complained, adding:

“The initiative leaves less funding available to strengthen education in all the other schools with AzMERIT scores below the top 10 percent.”

This academic year, the department awarded traditional and alternative schools who received “A” and “B” letter grades, which were largely calculated based on how students scored on AzMerit, the state’s accountability assessment. 

Last year, the department awarded schools whose AzMerit scores ranked in the top 10 percent statewide. 

Critics of results-based funding contend the Legislature takes money away from basic subsidy funding for public schools.

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