As the budget battle heats up at the legislature, Governor Ducey and lawmakers are currently debating multiple proposals to increase funding for K-12 classrooms. With limited resources available to achieve many of these goals, it is important that policymakers prioritize where new dollars are spent and avoid proposals that do not improve outcomes or implement bad tax policy.
First, here are some of the ideas that should be avoided:
Expanding All Day Kindergarten: Though very politically popular, multiple studies show increasing funding for all-day kindergarten either results in no increase in achievement, or the gains are lost by the third grade. Until it is determined why all-day kindergarten is not improving student performance, lawmakers should not increase funding for the program.
Exempting Teachers from Paying Income Tax: Lawmakers want to provide a pay raise for teachers, and since everyone hates the income tax why don’t we do both at the same time? Of course, the problem with this tax carve-out is that it will spur other classes of government employees (police officers, firefighters, etc.) to ask for the same deal. Additionally, evidence shows that taxpayers who are exempted from paying the income tax (both businesses and individuals) are much more likely to support future income tax increases on everyone else who do pay. If lawmakers believe in paying government employees more, do it through a pay raise. And if they want to cut income taxes, do it for everyone, not for a select group.
Borrowing for School Construction: After the recession in 2008, much of the funding provided by the state for new school construction dried up. In some respects, the reduction made sense since population growth stopped and several districts actually experienced enrollment decline. Now that population growth has rebounded, there is renewed need to provide dollars to the School Facilities Board. As an alternative to appropriating the funds, however, there are discussions to just borrow the money for the construction. This is the wrong approach that could wreck the structural balance of the budget and lead to more borrowing in the future.
Rather than spending funds on these options that are not outcome focused, lawmakers should instead focus on proposals that improve accountability, improve student performance and are based on results. The best proposal released so far to accomplish this goal is the Governor’s recommendation to provide additional funding to achievement schools that are high performing or demonstrate student improvement.
Under the plan, top-performing district and charter schools would receive additional funding, with low income schools getting a larger share. This approach makes sense as it ties funding to outcomes, which is what the priority should be.
As we near the conclusion of budget talks, let’s hope lawmakers choose the right policy path of funding K-12 outcomes, not the politically easy one of more money with no strings attached.