Instead of reforming charters, Ducey wants to reward bad actors

Teachers, students and parents protested Arizona's low education funding at the Capitol on Feb. 25, 2015. Photo by Andy Blackledge | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Remember when Governor Ducey and certain Republican legislators claimed they were shocked by the charter school abuses uncovered by watchdog groups and reporters at the Arizona Republic?

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?  

Or, perhaps the governor could consider putting $98 million toward the state’s shameful underfunding of special education?

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.

Julie Erfle
Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.


  1. HMMM….As a Summa Cum Laude of a University and having two kids go through the public school system and two children that is almost done with the charter system I dare say that the charter system is the best system and provides more opportunities for future success. Arizona has the worst…let me repeat…the worst public educational system. The Red for Ed campaign is a flop due to the unqualified teachers that I see marching down the street. Their students usually wind up working in some form of retail where they don’t even know how to count cash if they are not already in a Juvenile Detention Center. My two children that graduated from the public school system one went into the military and the other works in a school cafeteria. That is contributed to the bad economy of Arizona and the opportunities presented. Even at the University level I graduated in the top 10% which only showed me that out of 5,000 graduates 4,500 were C’s make degree students and no smarter then someone who doesn’t have the resources to attend University in the first place. I could even rant on Online Schools vs. Brick and Mortar. This article is not about the attacks on public schools. This a blatant attack on charter schools, because of some bias against rich people, administrators, or management lining their pockets??? Oh the scandal…Oh the abuse… contact your local community activist…People get paid for their services and contributions. That is how society works. It is called Capitalism. Shoot in this day and age I would even support Feudalism. However, our society is turning into Social Justice Warriors that never used a lawnmower, thinks how life is a travesty, and everything should be brought up in an ethics committee due to disagreement, because they feel violated that they didn’t get what they think they deserved. The word progressive is becoming synonymous with idiocy, lunacy, and buffoonery. When will that stop? It looks like Ducey is betting on the more favorable, more demanding, and more beneficial educational system, which is producing results. If you remove the AZ Merit scores from the Charter Schools and only look at the Public School results I would expect to see a drop in Arizona’s overall standing…thank goodness for the Charter Schools otherwise the Government would have to step in and send the National Guard to save us from ourselves. Who knows perhaps that is the agenda of the Social-ist Justice Warriors???

  2. I just learned of a terrible truth concerning our society and the view of public schools and charter schools. I have always turned to U.S. News & World Report as a resource for both High School and University rankings. However, I hear that they will be changing their methodology for 2019. The rankings should be available April 30, 2019. It appears that Advanced Placement (AP) and college readiness will no longer be a factor in determining overall rank or it will be given a lesser value. This move will clearly put charter schools in a less favorable light or an unfavorable rank considering what they have been in the past. As I have a brain hemorrhage let me explain. In order for the public school system to have a more favorable or higher rank they must now consider non Advanced Placement or non College ready criteria. What?!?!? What are we going to measure the school on? Whether or not they have a good football or basketball team??? Or an outstanding Drama Department??? So, what we are saying is that as a society in determining which is the best High School we no longer care about college readiness and only care about those non AP areas!!! Believe me I am all for being a well rounded character and being disciplined in multiple areas such as sports, drama, choir, band, etc… However, if we remove the college ready criteria or in the very least lessen it’s value then we have accepted failure. We will no longer set the bar higher then we can reach. We have accepted a stagnant hand out society. To be honest, I don’t care what terminology we use such as public or charter. I only care what is best to create an educated, working, and productive society. Not a bunch of monkeys waiting for a Universal Income hand out trying to put a square block into a circle hole(of the same size-of course)…


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