A for Arizona aspires to a system where all students have access to a high-quality school and classroom proximate to them – including great virtual learning environments.

In this new chapter, we will continue to shine a light on what works and ways to scale great ideas.

In creating quality neighborhood opportunities for every child, we will educate community leaders on policies that prioritize student success – especially low-income students, focusing intentionally on access, and not unnecessarily restricting school leaders from being entrepreneurial, innovative, or from designing school cultures that create the greatest value for Arizona students.

Choice, data, flexibility, and investing in those who are serving kids at the highest level are all part of the formula for success.


Policy does not create great options, it creates opportunity. Public policies should support and expand the opportunity for talented educators to do their best work and to help more students access great schools. Educators create excellent schools, and families amplify the effect when they are able to choose from among the best options for their child.

With the help of our research, analysis, and public education, dozens of new laws and regulations have been repealed, amended, or created to vigorously support the growth of high-quality school options and best practices over the course of the last six years so that we will achieve the long-term student outcomes and economic opportunity Arizonans deserve.

Past policy research and analysis that yielded better served students & families include:

Re-Aligning Revenues Towards Excellence & Demand

State and federal funding formulas recognize different characteristics of a school in order to generate revenues – small schools, high schools, and even schools identified as failing all receive more money through weights or grants. The one thing that has historically not been funded? Excellent schools beating the odds and driving results for kids. Schools that made changes, improved student outcomes, and climbed out of improvement efforts immediately lost funding for the very programs that were now closing the achievement gap and were faced with no financial incentive to continue to excel.

Results-Based Funding

Beginning in 2016, Arizona made a commitment to support the state’s best teachers and schools by dedicating new funding specifically to those closing or narrowing the achievement gap. This funding program recognizes our most effective schools and helps them expand their impact by providing additional dollars for school-to-school mentoring, to allow schools to serve more students at existing school sites, to help other schools improve, or to assist schools growing into new locations. The new annual reporting requirement in 2020 will allow others to learn best practices from those getting the highest results for Arizona students and to scale these practices across the state.

SB1042 and SBE Board Rule R7-2-606 [Beginning FY17]


Because of Results-Based Funding, Sonoran Science Academy - East has grown and was able to open a new nine-acre campus in southeast Tucson to better meet parent demand for a great STEM school. Results-Based Funding has enabled us to provide more low-income students in southeast Tucson an opportunity to receive an ‘A’-rated education, in a neighborhood where they can walk to school, and where the school will be an active community partner and resource.

Fatih Karatas, Chief Executive Officer of Sonoran Schools

Results-Based Funding will help provide the opportunity for us to ensure that our teachers are well trained, and ready to meet the challenge of students experiencing lost instructional time due to school closures. It is refreshing to be able to have access to these funds when our goal of high achievement for all students became a little more difficult.

Hollis Merrell, Superintendent of Snowflake Unified School District

Early College Credit Bonuses

Public school teachers and schools can now earn incentive bonuses for each high school student who passes a Board of Regents-approved exam that earns a student college credit in Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science, and advanced Social Studies courses. These bonuses are earned through the College Credit Incentive Program and provide $450 per student for schools with more than 50 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, and $300 per student for all other schools. At least half of the bonus at each school goes directly to the classroom teacher who taught the student earning the credit. We support expanding this program to also award certification bonuses in high demand workforce programs.

ARS §15-249.06 [Beginning FY17 Budget]

The number of Arizona students passing college credit earning exams has grown so much the Legislature expanded the program in FY2020 by $1.2 million, bringing the total program up to $5 million. To fulfill the state 60% attainment goal, this is the momentum our state needs to continue to fund and grow.

The Early College Credit bonuses support our hard working AP and Dual Enrollment teachers as they lead their students through challenging, college-level content. Our teachers would work hard without these bonuses, but there’s something about being recognized for going the extra mile that makes it a win/win for teachers and students alike.

Holly Batsell, Bioscience High School Principal, Phoenix Union High School District

Tackling the Quality Teacher Shortage

Every student in Arizona currently does not have access to a high quality classroom and effective educator. Educators transferring from out of the state were still facing bureaucratic hoops, fees, and additional hour requirements to do what they do best – teach. For Arizona’s best schools that are rapidly growing to serve more students at the highest level, they are facing a huge barrier to find top talent. Those who sought creative placement of teachers across grade bands or single subject experts at the elementary level were told no by the state department of education, when data showed it led to greater outcomes for students and retention of young teachers.

The foundation for giving every student a quality classroom is to better enable effective school leaders to find and retain prepared teachers who can achieve excellent outcomes for children.

Overhauling Teacher Certification

Antiquated rules should not stand in the way of a great classroom teacher. To ensure the best educators are in our classrooms, Arizona began in 2017 to allow public schools to conduct their own Teacher Preparation programs for college-degreed professionals. This policy allows true subject matter experts into the classroom faster while still requiring teachers to meet other certification requirements over time and data showing teachers were effective at promoting adequate academic growth for students. Teachers also now have a streamlined process to transfer certification across state lines with fewer regulatory hurdles and lower fees so great teachers can get into the classroom faster. Moreover, principals now have the flexibility to hire alternatively certified teachers into single subjects or grade level bands, giving schools the ability to put their most effective teachers in the classroom. These improvements allow Arizona’s schools to better identify, recruit, and train great teachers. Now more than ever, these changes will prove critical as schools re-imagine the role of a classroom teacher in the era of COVID-19.

SB1042 and SBE Board Rule R7-2-606 [Beginning FY17]


Since this law allowing schools to offer their own training programs that lead to teacher certification went on the books three years ago, the teacher shortage is nearly nonexistent in the Vail Unified School District where they took immediate advantage of the opportunity to build their own educator pipeline. Of the 22 schools, in 2019 there were just two open teacher positions. Washington Elementary School District also started their own program this year. It’s no surprise that these high performers are early adopters of this update to teacher certification laws. SB1042 made it possible for school leaders to ensure new educators are prepared to meet their high expectations as well as to help schools be less dependent on external organizations to meet their teacher supply.

  • Vail Unified tackling teacher shortages with alternative certification program: Learn More.
  • Arizona’s Teacher Talent Pipeline to address teacher shortage: Learn More.
  • Certification Changes and Updates: Learn More.

Enhancing Financial Transparency

Billions of federal, state, and local monies were flowing to Local Education Agencies (LEA) in Arizona without any connection to academic outcomes or clarity for the public. Despite a relatively advanced funding formula based on student needs, Arizona’s education financial system falls short by funding the Local Education Agency (LEA) and not ensuring funding followed students to the very school they attend. Without changes to the law, we as a community could not ensure each student’s funding was being used to fund their unique needs, but also make school-level financial transparency meaningful to ensure equity and access to quality learning.

School-Based Budgeting

Key to evaluating whether our investments are improving academic performance is having a clear picture of the local, state, and federal dollars directed to individual school sites, not just the broader district or network level. School-level transparency and budgeting allows school leaders to see if the investments they make yield results for their students and teachers. This law requires public schools to detail how much of each school’s total student funding actually makes it to each campus and empowers local boards to engage principals substantively in the budget decisions of their own neighborhood school. This level of transparency protects student-centered funding and empowers parents, teachers, principals, and communities. Arizona’s school-level budget transparency law took effect in the 2019-2020 school year and is supported by new federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

HB2385 and ARS §15-271 [Beginning FY17]


National research shows that school-based budgeting empowers principals and results in improved outcomes for students. From 2016-2019, four Arizona school districts participated in a pilot program in partnership with A for Arizona and Allovue, a leading education finance technology company, to inform state policy, implementation hurdles, and local school practice toward effective school-based budgeting. Their experiences helped inform our state’s future practices in addition to transforming the way they look at classroom monies.

Allovue gave our site leadership dynamic feedback on their budgets and the tools to adjust funding in ways that would have the biggest impact for our students.

Scott Hagerman, Ed.D., Tanque Verde Unified School District Superintendent

Improving Access to Great Schools

A critical aspect of the state’s school funding system is to is ensure that every child has equitable access to a functional and safe school building, that rural areas as well as high growth areas of the state can keep up with demand for great schools, and that every campus with a waitlist of students wanting to attend is able to grow the school by building out their space or adding a new school. Limiting growth of high-demand, high-quality schools limits access to an excellent education across the state. Likewise, underutilizing partially or fully empty schools – both district and charter – restricts the ability of high-quality schools to use these school buildings if they have demand and a reputation for outcomes. Poorly utilizing school space not only limits how many families can access a great school, it is expensive and restricts the ability to focus available resources on classrooms and teacher pay.

School Facilities Reform

We studied and educated the community on school facilities policies that better align the demand for great schools with the ability to start, maintain, and grow them. In 2019, SB1161 was passed into law, focused on improving transparency of empty and underutilized school facilities and increasing the ability of district, charter, private, and military bases to access, manage, renew, and expand their facilities. Under the new law, the School Facilities Board (SFB) must list vacant buildings or partially used buildings that are suitable for school operations and finally establishes clear guidelines for the sale or lease of those buildings.

It builds upon a law in 2018 that we discussed and informed on current practices that resulted in prohibiting a public school district from accepting an offer for the sale or lease of a vacant building or partially used building that is less than an offer from a charter or private school. The new law allows a charter school, another school district, or a military base to operate a school or offer educational services in any vacant or partially used district building. A for Arizona’s research and discussions with school district leadership revealed that districts also wanted the same flexibility to cross traditional school district boundaries in the future and to have the opportunity to operate an autonomous school or partnership school outside their traditional boundaries – adjacent to their district or not. This is a big win for kids and families!

SB1161 and ARS §15-119 [Beginning FY19]


  • To learn more about the high-quality public school participants over the last 4 years and the thousands of additional students now being served, click here.

Credit Enhancement Program

Arizona has many high-quality public schools. Resources available for the Achievement District prioritizes expansion and replication of our state’s top-performing public schools – schools that are at capacity and have waiting lists – through targeted financial support. The Achievement District aims to increase access to high-quality public schools statewide for all Arizona students through the Credit Enhancement Program. This effort leverages the state’s access to capital to bring down the cost of building and expanding school facilities. In return, these schools must expand their reach to serve more students or to mentor other school leaders seeking excellence.

ARS §15-2155 [Open for Applications Beginning FY17]


  • To learn more about the high-quality public school participants over the last 4 years and the thousands of additional students now being served, click here.

Expansion & Innovation Fund

In 2018, A for Arizona launched a first-of-its-kind, statewide privately-funded Expansion & Innovation Fund to provide seed funding for schools and innovative partnerships, including with postsecondary institutions and district-charter strategic initiatives, to reimagine and better serve more students in their communities.

2019 Recipients

Learn More

Rigorous Assessment Choice

In 2015, “Opt Out” movements were taking the nation by storm as parents refused for their students to participate in the annual state assessment. Our neighbors in Utah and Colorado passed “Opt Out” laws, resulting in the masses no longer participating in testing and leaving their state at a loss for how students were performing and what their needs were to ensure they had access to an equitable education. Further, high-quality Arizona schools were already utilizing many rigorous tests as part of their curriculum to assess student achievements and benchmarks. This created an almost double testing of students, wasting valuable instructional time and data that could be used by schools. With these efforts popping up in Arizona, especially in the Phoenix Metro suburbs, our state was facing two roads – one without accountability altogether or one with more rigorous examination options that really told parents the truth about how their child was performing compared to their peers.

Menu of Assessments

We explored and advanced the idea of a Menu of Assessment because school principals and teachers wanted the opportunity to choose the test that best aligns with the material taught in their classrooms and that has relevance for all students in our robust school choice environment. Many of these leaders were already using other high quality testing vehicles such as International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement (AP) in addition to the state test to demonstrate true college-level preparedness. Currently the high school Menu of Assessments includes the ACT, Cambridge International Exam, and the SAT. There is a high bar for adding a new exam to the list of approved assessments which all must be as rigorous or more than current State standards. Now high schools can opt-up to administer tests that help high school students earn college credit or get into college – a true demonstration of being “College Ready”.

As the first state in the country to implement something as innovative as assessment choice for schools, Arizona schools looking to implement this new policy option have continued to run into bureaucratic barriers. We are continuing to educate on the impacts of assessment choice.

HB2544 and ARS §15-742 [Beginning FY16]


Despite resistance to the original policy, the field has fully embraced Menu of Assessments. Check out the current (and growing) participating LEA list here.

We, at Great Hearts, were pleased to see Arizona thinking more carefully about what it means for students to demonstrate aptitude across grade levels. For years, parents and teachers alike have asked for tests that evaluate what students have learned and how that compares to schools across the country. The Menu of Assessments allows schools and students to focus on what matters most in education – building knowledge – and to take action based on results to improve learning in Arizona

Brandon Crowe, Executive Director, Upper Schools of Great Hearts Arizona