They demanded accountability! Transparency! Reform!
Of course, that was during campaign season, a time when politicians in competitive races knew winning slogans meant tough talk about the bad actors who fleeced Arizona taxpayers.
Fast forward a few months, and the scene is quite different.
Republican leadership punted on the only charter school reform bill that made it through committee, which was really just a fluff piece that sounded great but did little to provide any sort of actual reform.
And the governor, the individual who said he was “open” to charter school reform? Well, his budget proposal actually does the opposite.
Instead of holding bad actors accountable, the governor is proposing large bonuses that will help some of the very schools who took advantage of lax regulations and filled their executives’ pockets with millions in taxpayer-funded largesse.
Gee, thanks governor.
Two years ago, Ducey launched a program known as results-based funding. The initiative was sold to the public as a way to reward high-performing schools, especially those that serve larger populations of low-income students, by giving them additional funds to expand successful schools or programs.
In the past, the program gave bonuses to schools with high AzMERIT test scores. If a school had a large population of high-poverty students (60-percent or greater), the school received a larger bonus. The current proposal awards bonuses based on school letter grades, which are still largely correlated with standardized test scores.
The result of this funding experiment is what most education experts expected: It’s a failure.
The vast majority of the bonus money doesn’t reach students in need. Two-thirds is appropriated to schools who educate few, if any, low-income students. And because the money is considered a one-time “bonus” allotment, schools are not investing the funds in long-term infrastructure.
The major beneficiaries of this program are schools with large populations of wealthy students who test well. The fund serves no purpose except to further exacerbate the funding inequalities already present in our public schools.
There’s no question the program should be scrapped, but the governor has decided instead to expand it. His budget for next year proposes $98 million in funding, more than double the current amount.
There is no logical reason to double-down on this experiment, especially when some of the schools that have benefited from the bonus monies are some of the same schools currently making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Schools such as American Leadership Academy, whose founder made $37 million largely off of taxpayer-funded real estate deals and has been under investigation for financial mismanagement.
Or Basis schools, which spend more than three times as much as the average district school on administrative costs while paying its founders millions in management fees.
Though Ducey is still trying to sell this program as a way to expand opportunity for students, it seems pretty clear it’s more about expanding opportunities for the charter lobby, which has been one of the governor’s biggest fans.
Parents might be curious as to why Ducey would take money out of the education pot to hand to a small portion of select schools while claiming there’s still not enough money to fully restore the education cuts made during the recession.
Why not use the $98 million to help return the money Ducey slashed from district and charter school assistance, a fund that pays for classroom necessities such as textbooks and desks?
If resources are as scarce as the governor claims, then he should be focused on using those resources wisely, not wasting them on a program that rewards outcomes with no consideration of inputs.
Thankfully, the governor’s budget proposal isn’t a mandate. The Legislature holds the power of the purse, and it can and should choose to stop giving bonuses to a handful of schools with fewer demonstrated needs (and some with questionable financial practices). Instead, lawmakers need to use the money to fully fund classroom necessities or special education programs, which is what parents expect, students need and taxpayers demand.