Because of Results-Based Funding, 15 to 17 Percent of Schools Will Get "A" Grades, Down From 30 Percent. Here's Why That's Important

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You know that new results-based funding system, the one that gives Arizona's most "successful" schools a big infusion of cash? If anyone tells you how equitable the funding system is based on the distribution of money the first year, ignore them. The funding for 2017-18 is more balanced than it will ever be again. Starting with the 2018-19 school year, all the money, or close to it, will go to schools serving children from families with above-average incomes. Those lucky schools will give their teachers a $2,250 raise, or more, leaving plenty more for school purchases. Their financially blessed students will be doubly blessed with the state's highest paid teachers along with new computers, books and other educational supplies the rest of Arizona's schools can't afford.

Results-based funding is designed to distribute $37.6 million to 15 to 17 percent of Arizona's district and charter schools. Schools with fewer than 60 percent of their students on free or reduced lunch will get $225 per student, and schools with more than 60 percent of their students on FRL will get $400 per student. That sounds fair, giving more money to schools with more low income students. And it is reasonably fair, for year one, anyway. A little more than half of the money will go to schools with lower income students in the upcoming 2017-18 year, because that's the way the law is written—for the first year. That distribution system stops the second year of the program. From then on, the money will be only go to schools with a state grade of A.

For the past few years as we've transitioned from the AIMS to the AzMERIT state test, Arizona hasn't given out school grades. That's why A-F grades can't be used to determine who gets results-based funding the first year. When the grading system starts up again in the second year of the program, two things will be different from the way things were before. First, new items will be added to the grading rubric which will make state test scores a little less important. That will mean schools with lower income students who generally get lower state test scores will have a better chance of getting a higher state grade. Second, the number of A grades the state gives out will be cut almost in half. In 2014, more than 30 percent of Arizona's schools got an A. In 2018-19 and following, the grading curve will change so only 15 to 17 percent of schools get an A. That has to happen. If every A school gets a slice of the $37.6 million results-based funding pie and there's only enough pie for 15 to 17 percent of schools, that means you have to adjust the number of A schools to match the money.

Let's look at those two changes together, the new features in the state's A-F grading system which will boost the grades of some lower income schools and the fact that only half as many schools will get an A. It's certain the modest changes in the grading system will help some D and F schools move into the C range and some C schools move into the B range. The new grading system might even help some low income schools that scored a B in 2014 get an A in 2019—if 30 percent of schools still made the cut. But they won't make the 2019 cut unless they move into the top half of 2014's A list schools since the bottom half will be dropping into the B range. For a school with low income students to go from a B in 2014 to the top half of 2014's A list in 2019 will be as rare as a June snowstorm in Tucson. Here's what's more likely to happen. Those few low income schools that managed to make it into the A range in 2014—and there are a few—will find themselves dropping down to B's in 2019 along with half the other schools that didn't make it to the top of the heap. That means the number of schools with more than 60 percent on FRL that get the results-based funding will range somewhere between not many and none.

This year's legislature has brought us two laws amounting to welfare for rich kids. The first gives everyone a voucher who attends private school, no matter how much money they have. The second gives schools attended by students from the most affluent families an extra $225 per student.

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