School funding overhaul proposed

2013-08-18T00:00:00Z 2013-08-18T16:33:27Z School funding overhaul proposedBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A state lawmaker wants to create a new funding structure that would eliminate school district override and bond elections.

At the same time, it would equalize funding for traditional and charter schools, and, he hopes, quell conflicts between between education and state officials over how education should be funded.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, made the proposal last week to county school superintendents from around the state, saying the state would create a dedicated fund for kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

Under this proposal, school districts would no longer receive funding from property taxes within their boundaries. It would all come from the fund.

Districts would also lose the ability to ask voters to approve bonds and budget overrides, and would not receive other locally allocated money to pay for desegregation and other programs.

Funding sources from the state for school construction, classroom equipment and other needs would be eliminated.

Instead, the state would allocate the money equally to districts and charters, likely giving a lump sum to school officials to use as they please.

There are no final numbers, but Crandell said funding would at least rise to the levels of charter schools, which receive about $6,100 per student.

Crandell said the idea is in the early stages and he is pitching it to education officials around the state to see if this type of funding structure would work.

“Right now, I’m trying to sell the concept, and districts and charter schools can come to the table and say whether it will or won’t work,” he said.

While the proposed funding structure would allow equal money for students, it could cause an unequal financial burden on school district taxpayers, said Ricky Hernández, chief financial officer for the Pima County School Superintendent’s office.

“The capacity of school districts to send money to the state is still going to be based on the value of their properties,” Hernandez said. “If you’re going levy the same tax rate on disparate values, then the people with less valuable property will end up paying more out of pocket to fund this new levy.”

Crandell’s biggest concern is simplifying an outdated funding system that creates inequalities and conflicts between school districts, charter schools and state lawmakers.

“My argument is to level out funding, get rid of the lawsuits, and fights between charters and traditional school districts,” he said.

There have been numerous issues involving school funding that have caused district, charter and state officials to clash.

Lawmakers and several school districts have battled this year over inflation funding, which the legislature stopped providing in 2010, when the state faced a budget deficit.

The school districts sued the state, claiming the districts lost between $189 and $240 million.

Lawmakers included $82 million in inflation money for this fiscal year, which began July 1, but are hoping that ruling will be overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Last month, charter schools filed a suit block the state Department of Education from taking $5.8 million from charter schools.

State officials say the money was an overpayment, but charter officials and attorneys claim the state can’t take the money back.

And some lawmakers tried to institute a one-year moratorium that would have prevented school districts from converting traditional schools to charters, after increased concerns over whether the districts were unfairly using the law to generate extra money.

Although the moratorium proposal was scrapped late in the legislative session, the measure illustrated a rift between charter and school district officials, with both sides saying they don’t receive enough money.

Local and state education officials agree the state funding structure needs to be simplified, but are reserving judgement on Crandell’s proposal until they learn more details.

“Everyone has to look at what the details are of the particular proposal and how it would affect each district and each school,” said Calvin Baker, Vail School District superintendent.

The proposal would likely benefit charter schools to a greater degree.

Charter school officials have said their schools receive less overall money per student than school districts because they can’t hold override or bond elections.

However, any measure that creates equal opportunities for all students will benefit both charters and districts, said Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

“We believe every child in Arizona should have an excellent education,” Sigmund said. “If this proposal moves that idea forward, then we would absolutely support it.”

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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