How to properly fund education (hint: not more taxes)

Jonathan Butcher:

First, Arizona should stop paying for ghost students.

Arizona schools can apply for additional funding for current-year enrollment growth, but they do not have to adjust for enrollment decreases in the same year. Traditional school payments are generally not updated until the following year, which means schools get funding for students who aren’t in their classrooms anymore.

As Goldwater Institute research has reported, the state pays about $125 million for empty seats every year.

Traditional school payments should be based on the number of students in the classroom, with payments updated accordingly throughout the year.

Taxpayers already pay more for schools in the lowest-performing districts than the highest-achieving districts. According to data from the Arizona Auditor General’s Office, the average expenditure per child in a “D” district (Arizona has made it nearly impossible to earn an “F”) is $11,900. For districts that earned an “A” on their report card, the average taxpayer expense per child is $9,200.

• The second step the Legislature should take is to eliminate seat-time requirements.

The late Sen. Chester Crandell was a visionary when it came to updating Arizona’s school-finance formula in this way. Two years ago, he led the passage of legislation that created a performance-funding pilot program for Arizona schools. Instead of paying schools based on how long students sit behind their desks each year, Crandell’s program based up to half of participating schools’ funding on how well students are learning.