Standardized testing requirements for graduation. CPR trainings for all students and teachers. Mandates to include private school kids in public school sports. In-school, sequestered, supervised suspensions. Required elections to decide whether to split school districts up.
What do all these ideas have in common? All are bills recently introduced at the Arizona Legislature. Some require extra staff. Some require extra training or materials. But — here’s the key — all of them require schools to do something extra without getting any extra funding.
Our state government exercises a tremendous amount of control over public schools. Every year, lawmakers pass new education policies and mandates, yet at the same time, fail to supply adequate funding for them. The resulting unfunded or underfunded mandates and regulations eat away at the services schools can provide. If the proposal doesn’t come with new funding attached, then public schools must take money away from benefits students are already getting.
Meanwhile, every dollar must be meticulously accounted for. Arizona ranks 47th in the nation in per-student spending, so unfunded mandates have a real impact on schools’ budgets. When a school is already running short on Kleenex and copy paper, being buried under a blizzard of extra demands can feel like death by a thousand cuts.
And then there’s the intangible cost of complexity — the weary burden of managing and juggling so many tiny requirements. It’s impossible to put a price tag on, but affects schools nonetheless. Meanwhile, for-profit voucher schools, which receive public funding with no strings attached, are propped up as the shiny, convenient alternative. And no one pays a bigger price than our kids.