EDITORIAL: Arizona Republic
The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute gets a big gold star for pointing out a vexing problem with the state's funding formula for public schools:
Delays in calculations of per-student funding fail to keep up with a highly mobile student population, resulting in misallocations. According to the institute's report "Ghost Students," allocations to schools with declining enrollments could amount to as much as $125 million in overpayments per year.
Of course, identifying the problem and fixing it are two different things.
Goldwater author Jonathan Butcher contends that much of the problem could be resolved if the state simply disbursed funds to school districts like it does to charter schools, whose allocations are based more closely on real-time attendance calculations.
But as opposed to charters, much of traditional public-school funding is through property taxes. And figuring property taxes is time consuming.
School districts begin calculating budgets in March. Those figures then must churn through the scrutiny of county school superintendents, the approval of county supervisors and, ultimately, past the wary eyes of county assessors, who disburse property-tax assessments in August. Tighten up that process if you can.
To make it worse, the Department of Education is saddled with an archaic computer system that causes lots of problems in addition to the lagging-payment problem. For one, it hampers Arizona's ability to participate in an important national program assessing American student achievement.
Yes, there's a big gap between identifying a bureaucratic problem and fixing it. But knowing there is a problem is a necessary first step. The Goldwater Institute did well in seeing a problem that few knew existed.