Arizona bill to change funding for public education likely in for a fight

Posted at 6:57 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 21:59:00-04

Republican lawmakers are pushing ahead with a plan to change 40 years of determining how public schools are funded.

Monday's vote in the House Appropriations Committee is the first stop in what may become a protracted debate.

A 101-page amendment to Senate Bill 1269 increases funding for K-12 education, providing as much as $215 million.

"We feel it's critically important that dollars are attached to the student and when a student makes a choice to go to a new school, those dollars follow the student," said Matt Simon of Great Leaders Strong Schools.

Great Leaders Strong Schools is among charter school interests and taxpayer groups who brought the bill to lawmakers, advocating a change to the formula so it provides additional funding for charters and school districts which cannot reap the tax benefits of more affluent school districts.

There are strings attached.

Programs providing additional teacher funding for school districts would be eliminated.

District schools can opt in to a new state student funding formula, but it requires the districts to eliminate their bonds and budget overrides. Conditions some rural school districts find unacceptable.

"For us, it would be a loss of about $588,000," said Chino Valley School Superintendent John Scholl.

Scholl, who attended Monday's hearing but was not allowed to speak, met later with Senate President Karen Fann about the bill.

"I thought it went very well. I felt like her and her staff listened to us. And I think they understand the concerns we have," Scholl said.

According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, half of Arizona's rural school districts lose money under this plan. But Matt Simon argues the current formula creates a real disparity between schools. "You have a situation where students are worth $5,000 less than other students simply because of the school district they attend."

Because of the money involved, the bill is expected to be included in the budget process. And a threat rural schools may lose money might not sit well with lawmakers up for election in August.

"It's our opinion once that becomes known, there is not likely a path forward for this part of the plan," said Chris Kotterman of the Arizona School Board Association.

It may take a while before the full House and then the Senate gets to debate the funding plan.