PHOENIX — Saying schools have proven they can do better, the state’s top education official said Monday it’s time for lawmakers to provide more cash — or at least settle the lawsuit over withheld inflation funding.
John Huppenthal boasted that 20 percent of schools in the state improved their academic performance last year. And another 63 percent managed to maintain their ratings in the state’s A-F grading system.
Those grades are based on everything from results on standardized tests and the number of “English language learners” who become proficient to simply the fact that students are improving, even if many are still performing below standards.
He also said the number of third-graders in danger of being held back because they were not reading at acceptable levels fell from 1,152 in 2013 to 602 this past year.
“It’s incredibly positive when you consider the stress that Arizona schools have gone through for the last three years,” he said of the results.
Some of that is implementing new standards, like “Move On When Reading” requiring third-graders to show they can read. But he also noted the cuts to state aid to schools, including the failure of lawmakers to follow a voter-approved law to boost funding to account for inflation.
Huppenthal said there is now proof that schools can — and have — done better. And he said it’s time for lawmakers to take notice.
“The message we are taking forward is that an investment, another dollar in education, unlike many other states, we’re going to give you $10 worth of value,” he said.
The report comes as legislators continue to fight a court order to reset basic state aid to education to the level it should have been had they not in 2009 started to ignore the requirement to make annual inflation increases.
That alone totals about $316 million a year. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper also may order the state to repay $1.7 billion the schools did not get in the past.
Huppenthal said people are willing to support education.
“But they are in a desperate sense that, in the past, that investment in education hasn’t seemed to pay off,” he continued.
He said, though, the record of what schools have done here — and with less — shows it’s time for legislators to recognize that money does matter.