Whenever the school choice lobby in Arizona submits a new bill, you can be sure it will help charter schools, not public schools. As the legislative session winds down, a bill has been introduced to change the state’s funding formula. Charter schools would benefit, but many public schools, especially rural schools, would lose..

Mary Jo Pitzl writes in the Arizona Republic:

A major overhaul of school funding in the name of equitable treatment for all students is making a late debut at the Legislature, drawing complaints that it’s a hasty effort to make significant policy changes that affect half of the state’s $14 billion budget.

The 101-page plan will get its first public airing next week, a week after most committee hearings have wrapped up for the year.

At its core, the bill would increase the base amount of money the state provides for public K-12 schools, while eliminating a number of funding programs that benefit only school districts.

All charter schools, which are public schools, would benefit from the increase, while district-run schools would see a mix of winners and losers, according to an analysis from the Legislature’s budget office. Early estimates are 121 school districts would lose money, primarily in rural Arizona.

The plan proposes an additional $215 million for the state’s K-12 system in exchange for ending programs that benefit district schools, such as more money for experienced teachers. It also would convert Arizona’s program that rewards schools that score high on the state’s achievement tests into a permanent program that, estimates show, benefit higher-income areas at a much greater rate than school districts with higher poverty rates…

Key education lawmaker not in loop

State Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, is the author of a strike-everything amendment to Senate Bill 1269 that would create the new funding program. The bill builds on a study released last month by A for Arizona, a nonprofit that is a proponent of school choice and the growing charter-school movement.

“This isn’t suddenly brand new language,” Udall said, who is chairwoman of the House Education Committee. She has worked on the plan since October, she said, although traditional education groups such as the Arizona School Administrators and the Arizona Education Association only learned of it in mid-March.

State Sen. Paul Boyer, Udall’s counterpart at the state Senate, learned of the proposal from a reporter.

“If they were smart, they’d know that one vote makes a difference,” Boyer, R-Glendale, said of the bill’s proponents. That’s a reference to the one-vote margin Republicans hold in both the House and Senate, making every GOP vote vital. Boyer has not been shy about breaking from party ranks, a move which has killed numerous bills due to unified Democratic opposition.

Boyer said he has no idea what the bill says and cautioned against the Legislature moving too quickly. All people have to do is look at the mess lawmakers created earlier this month, he said, when they approved a bill that eliminated the election of political party precinct committee members, setting off a backlash that took a lawsuit to resolve.

Other groups, watching from the outside, said they’re alarmed at the seeming rush to make a change halfway through the legislative session.

“That’s the biggest red flag I have,” said David Lujan president and CEO of the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance. “They are trying to put forward major changes to school funding with very little input.”

An idea long discussed

Matt Simon, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for Great Leaders, Strong Schools, a school-choice organization, said components of the bill were long in the making….

“This isn’t the surprise they’re making it out to be,” Simon said of critics. Besides, it’s past time to update Arizona’s 42-year-old school finance system, which was created before charter schools existed and before Arizona became a leading school-choice state.

Besides, he said, when the “alphabets” (shorthand for groups such as the Arizona School Boards Association, the AEA and others) propose education measures, they cost millions of dollars. By tailoring school funding to the student, rather than a system, Simon said funding can even out over a five-year period as aspects of the bill are phased in…

Reach the reporter at maryjo.pitzl@arizonarepublic.com and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.