By Lisa Graham Keegan*
Let’s get the facts straight. Public charter-school students are underfunded on average, $1,578 per pupil, when compared with their district peers. That amount is verified by Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a bipartisan fiscal oversight committee.
It is irresponsible to The Arizona Republic’s readers to only tell half of the story.
The June 30 article, “Charter-school transition: Districts converting traditional schools in bid for more state cash” misleads readers by focusing only on the funding provided by the Arizona Legislature. That pot of money is only about half of what schools receive per student. The other half comes from local tax dollars.
While it is true that charter students receive about $1,000 in additional state funding, the story failed to share why the Legislature provides that additional amount. I was the House Education Committee chairwoman who was the sponsor of the 1994 charter law. We provided additional dollars to charter students from the state coffers because charter schools have no access to local tax dollars. When put into context, Paradise Valley Unified School District receives over $9,500 per pupil, not $4,400 as the story reported.
What this article helps to point out, though, are the rampant inequities in Arizona’s public-education system. It’s not just between district students and charter students. Many rural districts are unable to pass local tax increases, deepening the funding inequities.
Arizona has embraced school choice, and families have benefited. Students are now able to attend any public school — district or charter — that best fits their needs. But the funding formula has not kept up. Our outdated school-finance formula was last reformed in 1980, when the government had only one fax machine. Funding should be transparent to the public and equitable to students, no matter where they live.
Here is our challenge to the public and your lawmakers: Let’s work together to make the necessary school funding reforms to ensure all students are funded equitably, regardless of where they choose to attend school. We need to fix this problem, so that no student is worth less.
Lisa Graham Keegan spent a decade serving as an Arizona state official, where she led that state’s education reform movement. She was the elected state school chief from 1995 to 2001 and from 1991 to 1994 she served as Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the House Education Committee and authored much of Arizona’s education reform legislation in the early 1990’s.
Mrs. Keegan’s leadership in Arizona earned her a national reputation as a strong advocate for student-based education policies. In March of 1999, Drs. Milton and Rose Friedman personally presented Mrs. Keegan with the first Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation Award for Leadership in Educational Choice. She was honored in the same year by the National Republican Women Leaders Forum as Educator of the Year. This year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted her into the 2013 Charter School Hall of Fame.
Currently Mrs. Keegan is the Principal Partner at the Keegan Company, where she consults, writes and speaks on critical issues in American education. She is also an Arizona Charter Schools Association Board Member.
*This column was originally published in the Arizona Republic on Sunday, July 7.