May 9, 2019

Game Changers for Students: Key Legislative Priorities Remaining for this Session

Arizona’s legislative session is winding down, which means the year’s “money bills” – those legislative proposals that come with a price tag – are jostling for a place in the final state budget package. There are always worthy ideas for lawmakers to weigh and decide what will make the cut. Big-ticket education items like fulfilling the 20×2020 teacher pay raise promise and restoring recession-era cuts are sure to take center stage in this year’s budget. But among the array of education priorities this year are several investments that could be game changers for students in Arizona’s public schools.

Results-Based Funding

Arizona adopted a school finance priority in 2016 that invests more in public schools that are achieving great results for kids, especially those in low-income areas. These schools are catching kids up to grade level faster than other schools and are better preparing students to go onto the next level of schooling, training, or career. These high performers are our best opportunity to reach more students with a quality school option, and Results-Based Funding has enabled many of them to expand faster than they would have been able to otherwise. This is a literal game changer for kids who may gain access to an ‘A’ grade education for the first time, thanks to new seats being added to a public school of their choosing.

This year state leaders are looking to expand the program to include schools that are on-their-way-to-‘A’. Peter Boyle, Founding Director of Western School of Science and Technology, a ‘B’-rated high school in Maryvale recently talked about his school’s commitment to become the first ‘A’ high school in the community and what Results-Based Funding could mean for students.

“Long-distance runners will tell you that last mile in any race is the hardest,” he said. “In an educational context, the same principle holds true: it’s much harder to move that last level from an ‘A’ to a ‘B’ than it is to move that same one level from a ‘C’ to a ‘B.’”

Results-based funding could be the boost these aspirational schools need to make the grade.

Funding for 224 additional school counselors

Governor Ducey has called for funding to support the addition of 224 public school counselors over the next two years. The proposal is part of the Governor’s Safe Arizona Schools plan, which includes more on-campus resources for students.

In addition to promoting campus safety, access to additional school counselors helps develop a college-going workforce and gives students awareness of additional postsecondary pathways. This fits in perfectly with a state-supported goal of the community alliance, Achieve60AZ, which aims to see 60 percent of Arizona adults with a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030. Advancing postsecondary attainment is also the aim of the next game changer.

Establishing teacher bonuses for students who earn early industry certifications

In 2016, Arizona implemented the College Credit by Examination Incentive Program (CCEIP), which provides school and teacher bonuses as an incentive to support students earning a passing score on a qualifying college credit exam. Lawmakers this year updated the law to ensure teachers get paid on time and to allow a larger cohort of teachers to share in the bonuses.

Now, taking a page from successful programs in Florida and Texas, advocates are supporting an expansion of the concept to include bonuses for students earning high-demand professional certifications. A study out from the Arizona Chamber Foundation looked at Florida’s experience, which, after expanding the program saw the percentage of students earning industry certifications increase by an eye-popping 8,751 percent between 2007 and 2015—from a mere 803 certifications in the 2007-08 school year to 105,131 during the 2017-18 school year. The paper suggests Arizona could have similar success if lawmakers explored the possibility of expanding the CCEIP to include industry certification and weighted these incentives for campuses serving low-income populations.

Passage of SB 1161; vacant and partially used facilities

Not part of the budget process, but still an important accomplishment during this year’s legislative session, is passage of Senate Bill 1161, which addresses vacant school facilities. Lawmakers approved this measure earlier in the year, which serves to connect public schools seeking out school facility space with available vacant, or partially vacant facilities.

A joint report published this year by the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Chamber Foundation uncovered more than 1.4 million square feet of reported vacant or underused building space in school districts across the state. Meanwhile, there are students on waitlists for our best district and charter schools – schools that would gladly expand given the opportunity and access to needed facilities. SB 1161, championed by Sen. Vince Leach, tasked the Arizona School Facilities Board with annually making available a list of vacant buildings that could be suitable for operation of a school.

Ideally the best schools we have will continue to grow and offer opportunities for more and more Arizona students. Gaining access to school facilities clears a chief obstacle many schools face when looking to expand.