- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Doug Ducey’s Classroom First Initiative Council has released the preliminary findings of a plan to overhaul the state’s school finance laws.

The council, which is responsible for improving the state’s 35-year-old public school funding formula, offered several recommendations at a meeting Tuesday, The Arizona Capitol Times reports (https://bit.ly/1KzV4Wr). The proposals include equally funding district and charter schools, rewarding schools based on performance and helping parents better understand how their child’s school is spending money.

Jim Swanson, the council’s co-chairman, said creating equity in the way that district and charter schools are funded would involve schools using the same per-student funding formula.

“By far and away this is the biggest challenge of the group,” Swanson said.

Districts and charters have different funding sources, with districts receiving money from the general fund as well as additional revenue from property taxes, bonds and budget overrides. Swanson said the point is not to provide more money to charter schools, but instead to create a more equitable system.

“I don’t think that means winners or losers. You could be in that situation. But I’ve said every meeting, I’ve said we do not want to have a world where we take haves and make then have-nots,” Swanson told reporters after the meeting.

Among the council’s recommendations include “regulatory relief” for top-performing schools from auditing requirements and procurement rules. But Superintendent Diane Douglas, a member of the council, questioned the fairness of allowing student performance to factor into such requirements.

“Certainly I’m a proponent of making things easier for our traditional districts and charters. But I’m also a little concerned, and we’ll see how the discussion moves forward, if we’re talking about giving waivers or not making people go through certain financial compliance based on student achievement,” Douglas said. “I’m not sure there’s a correlation between one to the other. There’s a lot of different things that get looked at in an audit process.”

Some of the proposals in the council’s plan require additional school funding, while others would involve reallocating existing dollars.

The council also proposed allowing the sale or lease of unused district land or buildings without voter approval, creating an online system where parents can view how much their child generates in school funding and developing policies to better recruit and retain teachers.

The 13-member council appointed by Ducey has spent three months working on a new funding formula. The group plans to present more detailed recommendations by the end of the year.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, https://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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