Arizona policymakers could take a lesson from the classic comedy Ghostbusters. Near the beginning of the film, Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Venkman (Bill Murray) are trying to decide what to do after being kicked out of Columbia University’s paranormal research department for wasting the school’s money.
Stantz says, “Personally, I liked the university, they gave us money and facilities and we didn’t have to produce anything… You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”
Results, in terms of effective use of taxpayer money, are sorely lacking from Arizona’s school finance formula. Last year, the state spent $125 million on empty seats in Arizona public schools. The state paid for some 13,500 “ghost” students in districts with declining enrollment. This was caused by the state’s outdated school finance system, which uses the prior year’s enrollment count to calculate funding for the current school year. Adding insult to injury, districts can report current-year enrollment increases and have their funding adjusted, but no such current-year adjustments are made for districts with declining enrollment.
The solution is right under lawmakers’ noses: fund schools based on the number of students in the classroom now, instead of last year. And we even have a model at our disposal. Arizona’s charter schools report enrollment periodically to the department of education during the year, and their funding is adjusted based on how many children are attending school currently.
Senate Bill 1295, sponsored by Sen. Chester Crandell, would do just that. Schools would report estimated enrollment before the beginning of the school year, then revise their enrollment count and have their payments adjusted halfway through the year. The Arizona Department of Education can even ask districts to report changes to student enrollment periodically in order to adjust school payments.
Just like we expect excellence from our schools, taxpayers expect effective use of their money. This bill would be a great step in that direction.
Goldwater Institute: Ghost Busters: How to Save $125 Million a Year in Arizona’s Education Budget
Ghostbusters: Stantz and Venkman discuss the private sector
Arizona State Legislature: SB1295