A Focus on Reducing Chronic Absenteeism
Success by Third Grade
It is widely known that third grade reading proficiency is one of the strongest predictors of high school graduation, postsecondary attainment and career success. But another year of data confirms a troubling pattern: too many of Arizona’s students are not making the grade. Test scores highlight the urgent need to rethink our approach to preparing young people for academic success.
At a premium are smart, cost-effective solutions that amplify the effect of what already works. For that reason, reducing chronic absenteeism should be a major focus of our efforts.
Closing the Achievement Gap Through School Finance Reform
Latinos represent a large and fast-growing subset of the Arizona population. There are more than 2 million individuals of Latino heritage in Arizona, making up 31 percent of he state’s total population and 44 percent of its student population (as shown in Figure 1).
Given that Latino students already represent a plurality of Arizona students, clear need exists to focus attention and resources on this population. One potential solution is through an unlikely source: rethinking Arizona’s policy on bonds and overrides. Reforming our school finance system is a critical first step to addressing the impact of economics on this growing population.
If we want our school funding system to be more equitable, we must make it less local. Reliance upon supplemental funding through bonds and overrides disadvantages schools; while wealthy districts may be able to generate additional resources, they don’t always have
community support and underprivileged communities – serving Latino students in particular – often don’t take the risk due to the little reward. A system that provides the fewest resources to students with the greatest needs is fundamentally unfair. Arizona must replace its broken model with a school finance system that treats all students equitably.
A Winning Campaign for K-12 Education Despite Changing Demographics
The Generational Pinch
Across the nation, states are entering the early stages of a generational pinch – the product of rapidly expanding senior and youth populations combined with a shrinking taxpayer base. The political and budgetary pressures that will accompany shifting demographics present a serious challenge to the funding of public education.
For Arizona, the impact of these demographic trends is not some hypothetical event in a distant future – it is happening here and now. Our state has a large and rapidly expanding retirement and school-aged populations. For this reason, proponents of improving public education in Arizona cannot wait to develop strategies geared to a changing electorate. We are obligated by our circumstances to tackle these challenges today.
And we are. In a May 2016 special election, Arizona voters narrowly approved Proposition 123 – a historic ballot measure that will significantly boost K-12 funding without raising taxes. As a result, every public school in Arizona will receive its share of an added $3.5 billion over the next 10 years. Led by Governor Doug Ducey, a coalition organized as Let’s Vote Yes for Arizona Schools (the “Yes Campaign”) successfully won support for Proposition 123 despite a pool of voters who were older and more skeptical of education spending than the general public.
Arizona’s successful campaign to win voter approval of Proposition 123 is a good case study for other states who may struggle to pass K-12 finance initiatives in the face of generational change.
A-F School Accountability
Rating Arizona’s 2,015 public schools with a label of A-F is believed to help the community identify the quality of teaching and learning in a particular school. The message is quite simple: ‘A’ schools are doing a great job at educating students and ‘F’ schools are not.
The Coalition believes what you fairly and accurately measure, you can improve upon, and suggests ways to measure an educator’s impact beyond merely test scores in Arizona’s new A-F system due in 2017.
Arizona’s “A-F” Letter Grades, published annually by the State Department of Education, have evolved over time, but their purpose has remained the same: to convey a judgment about a school’s quality or effectiveness at educating students.