The Arizona legislature adjourned in early May; before doing so, they provided public schools with an additional $48 million in new spending.
For charters, that increase is about $42.95 per elementary school student and $47.52 per high school student, according to estimates based on current-year student counts. Schools serving students in grades K-3 will also get an additional $118.64 per pupil for reading programs, based on current student counts.
But when it comes to Arizona’s antiquated school funding system, students are treated differently.
According to an analysis of the latest funding data, Arizona’s charter school students are funded $1,765 less on average than their district peers. The analysis looks at all sources of funding – including local bonds and overrides – from Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal’s annual financial report of fiscal year 2011 data.
We cannot let this funding gap continue. The Association has been fighting this discriminatory statutory funding system since 2007 when the whole K-12 funding system underwent intense scrutiny and review.
Based on the research, lawsuits were filed in 2009. A recent Maricopa County Superior Court hearing has signaled that the charter student case may be resolved at the trial level by the end of the year.
Recently, student finance experts were disclosed. Reports can be found on www.studentequitynow.org that document the student funding disparities based on Arizona’s statutes. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has set a September deadline for all legal issues to be resolved.
We expect the state to focus on the lack of harm suffered by those Plaintiff parents who have students at charter schools. The lack of funding has little impact on the academic experience of these students because many charter leaders are very, very creative in using their limited budget to benefit student achievement. In tight fiscal times, even when difficult decisions must be made, charter leaders continue to focus on student learning.
Although charter school students have not suffered directly in their academic environment, Arizona’s K-12 finance statutes have harmed charter school students as a whole, because funding is wholly unavailable to 135,000 students in charter schools. The impact to these students is close to $7 billion over their K-12 career.
Education is a fundamental, basic right in Arizona. Students should not be penalized based on school choice. This lawsuit seeks to affirm a basic American principle: that all children in public schools receive an equally good education, backed by similar, adequate resources.
Eileen Sigmund is President/CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.