PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer is proposing what she said is a first-in-the-nation plan to tie state aid for education to academic performance and improvement.
The measure would reduce the amount of state money now available to school based on attendance. Those funds, along with new dollars, would be reallocated based on the grading system that has applied to all public schools for years.
That means the best-performing schools could get up to an additional $500 a year per student, on top of the $5,244 in basic aid. The plan also is geared in a way so that even schools rated D or F on the scale, which are ineligible for this achievement bonus, could get some extra money if their overall performance improves.
But schools that are low-performing now and fail to get better would end up with less money than they have now.
Initially, that funding cut would be small - one-third of 1 percent, or about $17 a year per student. But when fully implemented, the cut to schools that do not qualify for either bonus would be five times as much.
The plan was immediately panned by Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association.
"Right now, that plan is more of a reshuffling of resources that are already too little," he said. "Simply rearranging the structure of insufficient funds doesn't really help anything."
Morrill said the plan mistakes cause for effect.
"Under that scheme, if you improve, the effect is you get more money," he said.
"That doesn't mean that having a performance-based funding system is somehow going to make districts magically work harder when they're working as hard as they can or do something they're not already doing," Morrill continued.
But gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said the Governor's Office disagrees. "This is just one more way to encourage improvement and innovation in the schools," he said.
Morrill said none of that means anything without basic funding. "There really hasn't been any investment strategy to back up all the increased expectations and standards," he said.
The lone exception, he said, was the $40 million lawmakers allocated last year to implement a requirement that students read at third-grade level before being promoted to fourth grade.
John Arnold, the governor's budget director, said the plan is built on the current system of grading schools.
Each school is evaluated on a 200-point system, with half the score determined by the percentage of students passing the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) tests given at different grades. Bonus points are available for graduation rates, reclassification of students as English-proficient and improvements in graduation rates. The other 100 points are awarded based on academic growth of all students with emphasis on growth at the bottom 25 percent.
If a school scores 138 points, it earns a B grade. If it gets the same score next year when the new standard kicks in, that would translate to an additional $206 per pupil.
"They would receive that every single year they maintain that level of achievement," he said.
But there's no improvement, and therefore no extra funding, under that side of the equation.
Using a different example, Arnold found a district with just 80 points that improved to 90 points. That still is a D grade and ineligible for academic bonus.
"But they have improved," he said. And that 10-point improvement for a school at that level translates to an extra $375 per student.
Arnold said the funding plan is structured so that most of the improvement money is available to schools that start out at the low end of the spectrum.
"We want to really reward our low performers for any improvement they make," he said.
Benson acknowledged cuts have been made to education funding in the wake of the deficits of the past few years. And he said while $18 million of the first-year funding for the plan would come from existing state aid to schools, Brewer's plan would add another $36 million in new dollars.
"Is it everything we'd like to do? No," he said. "The state doesn't have unlimited resources."
On the Net
Find a link to every school's letter and 0-200 score at: