We think schools are getting a raw deal from the state on funding.
That statement might be true — depending on your perspective — every year, but this year it’s the case even more.
Last month the Chief Financial Officer for Sierra Vista public schools, Kenneth McGovern, explained an almost $1 million “adjustment” in the district’s budget due to a reduction in state shared revenues.
This change was a result of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Executive Order 2020-44 in June. The order set the funding for distance learning the same as the Arizona Online Instruction Program. Students who are enrolled full-time in the AOI program are funded at 95 percent of the amount allocated by the state for students who attend in-person classes.
Funding levels for “average daily membership,” the standard that determines how much state funding is allocated to a school district, were cut 5 percent for students participating in distance learning, and 15 percent for students enrolled part-time.
For Sierra Vista schools, it’s a nearly $1 million loss in funding. We can expect similar “adjustments” are being made for schools in Douglas, Willcox, Benson and all of the more than 20 districts in Cochise County.
Here are the issues.
This is an obvious move by Gov. Ducey to protect state resources at the expense of local school districts. Fear of a pandemic-caused state budget deficit — which hasn’t materialized — provided the motivation to cut state spending. Funding not allocated to schools is banked by the state, which notably hasn’t had to dip into its $1 billion rainy day fund despite the impact of the coronavirus.
It’s also a political move. Gov. Ducey’s harshest critics — members of his own party — grabbed headlines last year by accusing him of being too heavy-handed in dealing with the pandemic. What better way to soothe the GOP extremists than to play hardball with schools and slash funding if students and teachers are enrolled in distance learning, and not risking their lives by going to in-person classes?
We can anticipate the consequences of this action. Making a $1 million budget adjustment will undoubtedly prohibit spending on needed classroom materials, cut spending on basic operating costs and possibly impact staffing.
This decision is a missed opportunity for the Ducey administration. Instead of investing in education, as the governor has so often touted in public remarks, he chooses to slash funding for schools despite the unexpected surplus in state revenues.
The losers in this equation are the students.
Arizona was already near the bottom of state funding for schools compared to other states. Its classroom ratios were among the highest in the nation and student achievement levels were among the worst in America.
Online learning has been a disappointment for Arizona education. Many students are now a full year behind where they should be in their learning progress. Now schools districts are forced to deal with yet another challenge in trying to educate our children — a significant loss of state shared revenue.
Choosing to defund education was a bad idea.