Arizona Weighing ‘Performance Funding’ for Schools

By Sean Cavanagh — April 02, 2013 2 min read

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is backing an unusual effort to tie a relatively small portion of school funding to districts’ performance on the state’s A-F grading system, a step her administration argues will create a monetary hook for school improvement.

Legislation that would establish a performance-based funding model is in play in the Republican-controlled legislature. But the primary vehicle for the plan, if it goes forward, is likely to be the budget negotiated by Gov. Brewer and state lawmakers, according to the governor’s office.

The Republican governor spelled out the idea in her budget proposal for the coming year, saying the goal was to reward schools for both high achievement and improvement and “promote local innovation and competition and enhance student performance at every school.” As described in the governor’s plans, local education agencies could earn “per-pupil achievement payments” by securing enough points on the state’s grading scale to get a mark of A, B, or C. Arizona is one of a number of states where A-F grading systems, pioneered in Florida, have taken hold.

A second pool of incentive money would go to schools that improved their scores in the state’s grading system. The Brewer administration, saying that it recognizes the challenges in improving the lowest-performing schools, wants a higher per-pupil “improvement payment” to go to local education agencies that make progress from a D or F grade.

A majority of the funding for the program would come from money moved from other parts of the budget, rather than reallocated aid from K-12, said Dale Frost, the governor’s education adviser.

In the first year of the initiative, for instance, the program would receive $54 million, $36 million of which would be new money, rather than reallocated education funding. Also in the first year, the performance system would account for 1 percent of the state’s overall education funding formula.

Local education agencies—which would include districts and charter schools—would be given flexibility in deciding how to spend money coming to them through performance funding, according to the governor’s office.

Winner-Loser System?

The Arizona Education Association opposes the measure, saying in an analysis that the system would reallocate money from state K-12 schools that are already struggling financially, and create a “winner-loser performance-funding system.”

The union pointed to an analysis by an associate professor at Arizona State University, David Garcia, who concluded that the achievement-funding model would favor wealthier school systems.

Andrew Morrill, the president of the Arizona Education Association, said that the union has a history of supporting performance-funding measures, but that given the recent funding cuts in education, the legislation would pose a hardship Arizona schools don’t need.

If enacted, the proposal would increase the funding inequities across public schools, said Mr. Morrill. Districts would be asked to reapportion their funding in exchange for a small amount of performance-based aid from the state. That system, heavily tied to standardized-test scores, would penalize schools with high numbers of students living in poverty, Mr. Morrill said.

Mr. Frost, the governor’s adviser, disputed Mr. Garcia’s conclusion. He said it failed to fully account for the way the funding system was weighted to help academically struggling school systems, many of which were disadvantaged economically.

Editorial Intern Victoria O’Dea contributed to this article.

Coverage of entrepreneurship and innovation in education and school design is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2013 edition of Education Week as Arizona Weighing ‘Performance Funding’ for Schools


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