Friday, April 19, 2019

Results-Based Funding: Watch This Budget Item

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 3:51 PM

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It's coming up on state budget time, which means it's time to start looking at budget numbers while they're still in flux. For me, that means looking at education numbers. Right now, what we have is Ducey's budget proposal, so that's the place to begin.

I'm starting with Ducey's Results-Based Funding proposal. That's the extra money a select number of schools will get because they have shown "results." During its first two years, the program, gave out just under $40 million a year. Ducey wants to more than double the funding this time around. He's proposing $98.3 million, a $58 million increase.

The overall education budget is starved for cash, as it has been for years and will continue to be so long as Republicans run the government. Ducey's proposed Results-Based Funding increases the pain for most of the state's schools by taking $98.3 million out of their budget, money which should be divvied up among all district and charter schools, and hands it to a select group of schools.

If a school wants a piece of the RBF pie, the best thing it can do is serve a wealthy community. That's because schools with an "A" state grade are assured of making the list, and "A" schools are disproportionately in high rent areas. The proposed budget's extra cash will enlarge the pool of schools. That means even more schools in wealthy communities will make the cut.

Ducey has added a new wrinkle this year. His proposal would give some of the funding to "B" schools which serve low income populations.

By adding the "B" schools, Ducey hopes to leave the impression that he needs the $58 million increase for the added low income schools. It's not a lie exactly. That's where more than half of the new money will go, but plenty of it will go to expand the number of schools in high rent areas as well.

The way the money will be split up is right there in Ducey's budget proposal. It even supplies a handy RBF spending bar chart (It's on page 21 if you want to follow along). For the past two years, the money was divided among just under 300 schools out of a total of 2800 district and charter schools in the state. Ducey's proposed budget more than doubles that number, bringing the new total to 675.

The bar chart breaks down how many "A" and "B" schools will be added to last year's funding: 170 "A" schools and 221 "B" schools. Translated into dollars, that means those "B" schools, which would have gotten no money otherwise, will split $31 million. That's no small amount. The added "A" schools, which also wouldn't have gotten money in the previous budget, will split $27 million between them, also a hefty figure.

If Ducey's proposal just added $31 million for the "B" schools to the previous year's amount, then the sole purpose of the extra money would have been to make the balance between schools with upper and lower income students more equitable. But that's not what he did. He also threw in money for another 170 more "A" schools, most of which serve a reasonably well-heeled student population.

I suspect adding the "B" schools was less important to Ducey and his people who wrote the budget than making sure as many children of his friends and donors as possible get the extra money. With the added 170 "A" schools, RBF becomes a "Leave No [Rich Family's] Child Behind" program.

So why bother adding in the "B" schools with low income students if it's just about Ducey giving more money to the schools educating the children of his buddies? Most likely, it's to hide the real reason for the increase. If he only expanded the number of "A" schools getting the funding, that would be too obvious. The 221 "B" schools give him cover, as well as legislators who vote for the extra money.

Am I being too suspicious of Ducey's motives? Isn't $31 million an awful lot of money to spend just to cover his tracks? Actually, no. He's not spending any extra money. It won't cost the state budget a penny. Every cent of the proposed $98.3 million comes out of the education budget. More money for the 675 lucky schools means less for the remaining 2100.

As I said in the beginning, the RBF money isn't a done deal. It's just one of Ducey's many budget proposals, subject to wheeling and dealing as the legislature wends its way toward voting in a budget. Watch this space.

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