A study of school finance in Arizona: equity, English language learners, and the allocation of funding
Closing the achievement gap between low-income, marginalized, racially, and linguistically diverse students has proven difficult. Research has outlined the effects of funding on student achievement in a manner that focuses the attention on dollars expended, in order overcome barriers to learning. Arizona has long been recognized for its education funding disparity, and its inability to balance fiscal capacity in a manner that serves to improve educational outcomes.
This dissertation examines how Arizona funds its education system. It measures horizontal inequity in a robust manner by examining those fiscal capacity resources directly related to learning and poverty. Recognizing districts with higher concentrations of special needs students will impact fiscal capacity at the district level, this dissertation applies a non-linear analysis to measure how English language learners/ limited English proficient (ELL/ LEP) student proportionality impacts federal and state revenue per pupil, ELL expenditures per pupil, and total expenditures per pupil.
Using the Gini Ratio, McCloone Index, Coefficient of Variation, and Theil inequality index, this dissertation confirms that significant education funding disparity exists across Arizona’s school districts. This dissertation also shows the proportion of English language learners is negatively related to local revenue per pupil, and ELL expenditures per ELL pupil.
Arizona has characteristically funded the public education system inequitably and positioned its students in a manner that stratifies achievement gaps based on wealth. Targeted funding toward ELLs is in no way meaningfully related to the proportion of ELLs in a district. Conceptually the way in which equity is defined, and measured, may require re-evaluation, beyond correlated inputs and outputs. This conceptual re-evaluation of equity must include the decision making process of administrative leaders which influence the quality of those resources related to student learning.