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Understanding Navajo K–12 Public School Finance in Arizona Through Tribal Critical Theory


by David G. Martinez, Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos & Victor H. Begay - 2019

Background/Context: Currently, Native American education policy reports and empirical research papers have largely focused on sociocultural challenges to Native sovereignty and the policy that impedes Native sovereign states. This paper deviates from that theme by implicating policy as preventing improvement of educational outcomes by proxy of the fiscal revenue available to reservation schools, focusing specifically on the Navajo Nation. To date, this is the first empirically driven, Native-specific school finance study that attempts to compare how Anglo and Native schools are funded and how the quality and dispersion of this funding affects Native education and outcomes.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study reports on a longitudinal descriptive analysis of school fiscal revenue (2006–2012), comparing Navajo K–12 school districts against Arizona public school districts. This empirical research paper attempts to answer the following questions: • How did Navajo K–12 public school district demographics compare to those of Arizona public school districts from 2006 to 2012? • How did Navajo K–12 public school districts perform academically compared to Arizona public school districts from 2006 to 2012? • How did Navajo public school district tax rates and assessed property valuation compare to those of Arizona public school districts from 2006 to 2012? • How did Navajo public school district revenues compare to those of Arizona public school districts from 2006 to 2012?

Research Design: This research study is a univariate statistical analysis (i.e., mean, median, standard deviation, range, and percentile) examining general descriptions of individual fiscal revenue variables for schooling.

Data Collection and Analysis: The data comprised publicly available Arizona Department of Education Excel files (Excel v14.0) merged into one consolidated dataset imported to SPSSv22.0. Our analysis began by selecting Navajo public school districts from our dataset and then comparing them to Arizona public districts (excluding Navajo and nontraditional LEA districts) from 2006 to 2012.

Findings/Results: This study has two conclusions: (a) There is a clear and growing achievement gap between Navajo and Arizona districts; and (b) Our results seem to suggest that Arizona’s equalization formula is not effectively counterbalancing the impact of local property wealth, as shown by the disparities in combined state and local revenue between Navajo K–12 school districts and Arizona districts.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings in this study indicate that Arizona must address policy and practice in order to remedy the educational disparity between Navajo students and their non-Navajo peers. Navajo Nation schools require agency to designate priorities and state funding to meet these priorities.



INTRODUCTION

The United States' lengthy history of inculcating Anglo education into Native American culture is one of the most complicated, arduous, and brutal stories in the national bedrock (Spring, 2016). From the initial contact by European colonizers to the involvement of Americans moving west, education policy—reflected in the structure of Anglo education—was to assimilate and civilize indigenous communities, stripping away their customs, language, history, and dignity (Lomawaima, 1995; McPherson, 2001; Reyhner & Eder, 1992; Skinner, 1999). This antagonistic view of Indigenous culture created a foundation of broken promises, systemic distrust, and socioeconomic challenges plaguing contemporary Native American communities. Native American communities continue to struggle with shrinking resources, economic development, and educational autonomy as they continue their struggle toward self-determination, preservation of their historical/traditional knowledge systems, and maintaining a shifting identity (Brayboy & Castagno, 2009; Castagno & Brayboy, 2008; McCarty, 2002; Ranson, 2008; Ruffing, 1979).

The U.S. Census Bureau (2012) reported the Native American population has grown by almost 10% between 2000 and 2016, to 5.2 million. This expansion was reflected across every state, with Arizona, as of 2012, housing 292,552 citizens identifying as Native American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012), representing 5% of the state's total population. It is the third largest community of Native Americans, after California (627,562) and Oklahoma (391,949) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). The Native American population in Arizona is largely represented by the Navajo (Diné) Nation, who have a tribal enrollment of over 250,000 and maintain a population of 169,321; it also educates the largest number of students (86,484) across its reservation, which spans three states, including New Mexico and Utah as well as Arizona (Arizona Rural Policy Institute, n.d; Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Office of Educational Research and Statistics, n.d.; U.S. Census Bureau, 2012.

By comparison, the second largest Native American reservation population is the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, with a tribal enrollment of 16,906, whose PK–12 students in 2014–2015 comprised an Oglala Lakota County School District enrollment of 1,464, a Pine Ridge School District enrollment of 805, a Red Cloud Indian School enrollment of 554, and six tribally-controlled grant schools in Pine Ridge enrolling 1,886 students (Black Hills Knowledge Network, n.d.). Nationally, Native Americans are a diverse group, exhibiting individual cultures and internally unique languages, separated by tribal traditions but conglomerated by historical oversight (Rhodes, 1994; Silver & Miller, 1997). In contemporary Anglo U.S. society, Native Americans continue to assert their sovereignty over land, culture, and education, often finding that Anglo barriers toward educational agency impede Native autonomy (Anderson & Parker, 2008; Adams, 1988; McCarty, 1998; Wilkins, 2003; Winstead, Lawrence, Brantmeier, & Frey, 2008). The dissolving of autonomy and denial of agency—to the detriment of Native American traditions, culture, language, and sovereignty—are a continuation of long periods of isolation and poverty created to further subject Natives to the laws and policies that continue to impair these groups in contemporary American education (Faircloth & Tippeconnic, 2010; Iverson, 2002; Trosper, 1996; Wright & Tierney, 1991).

The overwhelming majority of the current literature that examines Native American- and Navajo-specific education focuses primarily on the legacy of underachievement perpetuated by decades of colonialism (Adams, 1995; Jacobs, 2004; Johnson, 1973; Manuelito, 2005; Powers & Johnson, 1987; Prucha, 1979; Szasz, 1999; Roessel, 1977; H. Thompson, 1975; Trafzer, Keller, & Sisquoc, 2006). Native American students in the United States have traditionally underperformed on standardized national educational assessments.

For instance, by examining National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, researchers have determined that Native American students trail their White peers in grade 4 reading (27-point gap) and math (21-point gap), as well as grade 8 reading (22-point gap) and math (25-point gap) (McFarland et al., 2017). The most recent NAEP report outlining the achievement gaps between Native American students and those students identifying as White stated that the average reading score for 8th-grade Native American students was lower in 2015 (265) than in 2013 (268) (Snyder, de Brey, & Dillow, 2016). This report also showed grade 4 mathematics scores lower in 2015 (240) than in 2013 (242).

Urgency about improving educational outcomes in Navajo communities is long overdue. In particular, it has become more relevant to understand Arizona public school funding in Native American schools because of the state's continued heavy use of local tax dollars to fund the compulsory education system and the expansion of the charter school agenda (Ellis, 1988; Hoffman, 2009; Jiménez-Castellanos, Combs, Martinez, & Gomez, 2013; Jiménez-Castellanos & Martinez, 2014). The equalization formula used by Arizona to offset local funding disparities would seem to provide greater access to funding for Native American students, who often reside in areas with lower socioeconomic status; however, if the state is unwilling to provide the equalization dollars needed to offset lower local tax-revenue generation, then little improvement will occur. In addition, the Arizona legislature has expanded the school choice agenda through education policy that allows students residing on reservation land to qualify for empowerment funding, Arizona’s version of a voucher system, as a solution to educational underachievement (e.g., Senate Bill 1332). Furthermore, the legislature is attempting to usher in further expansion through Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (i.e. Senate Bill 1431). These accounts would take 90% of the allowable per-pupil funding amount schools receive and apply it toward private-school tuition. Besides automatically diminishing student funding by 10% and allowing students to attend a school system that has not demonstrated improved student outcomes, this expansion could potentially siphon funds away from the public education system, leaving the public compulsory system to educate students with limited funding  (Bifulco & Ladd, 2006). Thus, the dual problems of expansion and state-level underfunding require attention in communities that are most at risk for underachievement and possible harm. Without the proper research, these communities, and Native education, may continue to suffer.

This research paper argues that it is urgent to understand how Arizona funds Navajo public schools before moving forward with policies that would divert public resources to private and nontraditional schools. Unfortunately, at present there exists no empirical study examining Navajo school revenue in K–12 local educational agencies (LEA) on and off Navajo reservation land. By looking at public school funding formulas through the analytical lens of tribal critical theory, this paper assesses the funding provided for Navajo K–12 school districts and analyzes the aggregate dispersion of educational revenue provided to Navajo schools as compared to non-Navajo schools. This study provides a longitudinal descriptive analysis (2006–2012) of Navajo K–12 demographics, academic achievement, tax rates, land valuation, and revenues.

RELEVANT LITERATURE

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

This paper is grounded in the foundations of critical race theory (CRT). Critical race theory presupposes that mainstream institutions, as well as social and legal structures such as formal schooling, education policy, and funding mechanisms, are inherently biased. Critical race theorists highlight racism, White privilege, and a historical context dominated by hegemonic institutions and systems, social norms, and daily practice as forms of oppression (Aleman, 2007). By recognizing how the status quo provides privilege to some while institutionalizing discrimination against the non-hegemonic others, CRT provides a foundation for understanding cyclical racism and forms of subordination (Brayboy, 2005; James, 1988). Employing a CRT framework in this school-finance study contextualizes those policies that subject Navajo Nation students to continued cultural degradation for the sake of cultural dominance, diminishing the sovereignty provided to the Navajo Nation by law.

Our paper borrows the CRT ideology and extends the critical notions through a theoretical approach laid out by Brayboy (2005), who argued for a tribal critical race theory (TribalCrit) to supplant and contextualize the unique sociocultural space occupied by Native Americans. TribalCrit is rooted in multiple historically and geographically nuanced epistemologies found in Indigenous communities (Brayboy, 2005). It is an approach that makes credible Native experience and recognizes the paradox of formal Anglo education while valuing cultural, linguistic, and historical agency within Native Nations.

With foundations in Marxism and legal studies, TribalCrit provides nuanced tenets that specifically apply to Native Americans (Brayboy, 2005, p. 427):

Colonization is endemic to society.

U.S. policies toward Indigenous peoples are rooted in imperialism, White supremacy, and a desire for material gain.

Indigenous peoples occupy a liminal space that accounts for both the political and racialized natures of Indigenous identities.

The concepts of culture, knowledge, and power take on new meaning when examined through an Indigenous lens.

Governmental policies and educational policies toward Indigenous people are driven toward the problematic goal of assimilation.

Tribal philosophies, beliefs, customs, traditions, and vision for the future are central to understanding the lived realities of Indigenous peoples.

Stories are not separate from theory; they make up theory and are, therefore, real and legitimate sources of data and ways of being.

Theory and practice are connected in deep and explicit ways, such that scholars must work toward social change.

TribalCrit is an approach that joins the decolonizing scholarly work of Linda Smith (1999) and G. Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel (2005) to create an essential paradigm in which we appreciate and understand how education policies both support and contradict the success of Navajo students. Critical perspectives are necessary to unmask the hidden detrimental goals of education policy while at the same time supporting tribal agency.

Castagno and Lee (2007) used TribalCrit to analyze the underlying self-interest of an institution of higher learning’s diversity plans with regard to Native American mascots and logos. They argued that an “interest convergence” justifies the institution's desire to support diversity efforts on its campus. However, the institution allows such activity only until it recognizes that diversity is no longer in the best interest of the power structure. This ironic development assumes that mainstream institutions will engage in (seemingly) diverse forms of minority agency for altruistic or equity purposes through a biased,, self-serving lens with goals that will ultimately propel its status, via competition, beyond those of its colleagues. Castagno and Lee made the critical assumption that this arrangement is one of power and, particularly, of Whiteness.

Thus, by contextualizing school finance against the backdrop of Native Nation-specific education institutions, TribalCrit provides an analytical framework we use to make known our assumptions, make credible our data sources, and provide understanding that makes sense of the funding formulas the state of Arizona uses with and in Navajo K–12 schools.

NAVAJO NATION HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Currently the Navajo (Diné) Nation reservation is home to the largest American Indian/Alaska Native population (167,000) and is the largest Indian reservation in the United States, with a total population of 174,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). The reservation land base for the Navajo Nation is roughly the size of West Virginia, covering approximately 27,000 square miles located in the Four Corners regions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Reservation land came to exist as part of a brutal history of colonization and exchange with Anglo settlers. Recognizing a government-to-government relationship with the Navajo Nation during the signing of the Treaty of 1868, the United States provided the Diné sovereignty over their governmental processes and agency over how the Nation is managed, as well as creating what is now the Navajo Nation reservation. The treaty included provisions for education that compelled the Navajo to send their children away to schools far from their families and tribal cultural customs (Coleman, 1993; Cooper, 1999; Holm & Holm, 1990; Holm & Holm, 1995; Thompson, 1976).

The Federal Indian Boarding schools in the late 19th century maintained a policy of assimilation, often resorting to abuse and neglect through regimented, military-style institutions in order to acculturate Diné children to Anglo customs. The lasting trauma of historical boarding schools plays a complex role in the contemporary framework of education achievement persisting through history (Archuleta, Child, & Lomawaima, 2004; Trafzer et al., 2006). While outright direct abuse and neglect no longer exist, many Navajos believe the goal of assimilation continues and is key to understanding how the role of this historical relationship continues to influence the decision and policy-making process.

NAVAJO NATION SOCIOECONOMIC CONTEXT

The Navajo Nation has been historically marginalized by meager socioeconomic conditions, highlighted by periods of genocide and servitude, that have impeded the Diné from asserting their sovereignty over their own culture, land, and education, thus abating any historical progress or upward mobility (Manuelito, 2005; Roessel, 1977; Smith; 2015; Tinker, 1993). The Arizona Rural Policy Institute, using U.S. Census Bureau and American Community Survey 2010 data, indicated that that almost half (44%) of all Navajo Nation children under 18 years of age live in poverty, while 34% of tribal members between 18 and 64 live in poverty. On the Navajo Nation reservation, poverty rates have reached 38%, more than twice that of Arizona, which is 15% (Arizona Rural Policy Institute, n.d.).

The median per capita income for the Navajo Nation is $27,389, and 32% of all households on Navajo Nation land have incomes of less than $15,000; in Arizona specifically, 24% have incomes of less than $10,000 (Arizona Rural Policy Institute, n.d.). The estimated proportion of Navajo Nation members 16 and older who are available for work but not working is 31.2% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Out of 14,733 miles of roads on Navajo reservation land, 11,352 miles (77%) go unpaved (Navajo Nation Department of Transportation, 2014). These unpaved roads can force Navajo Nation students to begin each school day by walking miles to the nearest bus stop because the school buses cannot make their way through the gravel and dirt. These socioeconomic challenges, coupled with the size of the Navajo Nation relative to its lack of infrastructure, directly harm Navajo Nation education.

The struggles for cultural and social relevance echo through barriers against upward mobility affecting other marginalized communities. Students from low socioeconomic communities have limited social mobility and limited access to relevant information required for higher-order educational attainment, as well as limited economic and cultural capital as a base for higher achievement (Brandt, 1992; Crowell, 1973 ; Darling-Hammond, 1995; Solorzano, 1992; Vinje, 1996). In order to contextualize Navajo schooling within American compulsory education, it is crucial to examine how it is funded and whether legislative barriers, through restrictive funding and schooling practices, are impeding access to higher educational strata.

NAVAJO K–12 SCHOOLING AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

The Navajo Nation has one of the densest populations of Native American students in the United States. According to the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education (DoDE), there are 245 Diné schools—177 public schools (76 in Arizona, 89 in New Mexico, and 12 in Utah); 12 private/parochial schools; 4 non-traditional charter schools; 68 Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools; and 6 dormitory schools—with a total student population of 169,321 (Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Office of Educational Research and Statistics, n.d.).

In Arizona, 86,484 Diné students are educated on and off the reservation (Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Office of Educational Research and Statistics, n.d.). Currently there are a total of 20 LEAs serving 76 schools on and off the reservation (44 public schools considered on the reservation, 27 public schools considered off the reservation, and 5 non-traditional LEAs) and 30 Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIE) and/or Grant schools serving Diné students in Arizona (Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Office of Educational Research and Statistics, n.d.).

In its report to the U.S. Department of Education, DoDE stated that in the 2010–2011 school year, 20% of Navajo Nation schools met Annual Yearly Progress goals under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. Of those schools in Arizona Navajo K–12 districts, 19.48% met AYP benchmarks and 9% met the graduation standard (Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Office of Educational Research and Statistics, n.d.). The Navajo Nation has one of the largest populations of students, yet one of the lowest benchmarks for achievement, in the United States. These educational strains have affected high school and post-secondary education as well, with 55.9% of Navajo Nation students obtaining a high school diploma and 7.3% a bachelor’s degree or higher (Gentry & Fugate, 2012). Native American students in Arizona graduate at a lower rate than the entire Navajo Nation average, 52.4%, and in comparison to Caucasian (78.7%) and Latino students (65%) face much greater graduation achievement gaps (Faircloth & Tippeconnic III, 2010). This translates to a 21% gap between the Native American and non-Native American student graduation rates in Arizona (Gentry & Fugate, 2012; National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, 2008).

NAVAJO K–12 SCHOOL DISTRICT FUNDING IN ARIZONA

Arizona has one of the lowest per-pupil funding rates—currently ranked 49th among the states—spending $7,528 per pupil (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). For fiscal year 2011, total per pupil expenditures in Arizona for K–12 education reached $8.4 billion (Hunting, 2013). School funding is heavily weighted toward local fiscal capacity, with approximately 50% of the $8.4 billion provided by local sources, pieced together through general revenue, as well as personal and corporate income tax and sales taxes. Arizona has chosen to use an equalization formula to fund its education system, offsetting funding differences between property-poor and property-rich districts and supplementing any deficiencies in local and state revenue for education (Hoffman & Rex, 2009). The financing of Navajo K–12 public school districts operates similarly to traditional public school finance in Arizona; the major difference is that there are three broad categories of schools, requiring three different funding mechanisms. Navajo K–12 school district finance falls into three categories: traditional public financing, federal contract/grant financing, and private/parochial financing. Since the private/parochial school finance information is not publicly available, similarly to other private school systems, the next section will describe only funding for publicly funded and federally contracted schools.

PUBLICLY FUNDED NAVAJO NATION SCHOOLS

Funding is allocated through local and state tax dollars, with additional funding provided by federal sources (Arizona Department of Education, 2014; Jiménez-Castellanos & Martinez, 2014). Traditional publicly funded Navajo districts are funded through a foundational state equalization formula that determines the amount of revenue allocated to school districts (Arizona Department of Education, 2014). District support level or revenue control limits funding is based on a calculated student count, which is then multiplied by a base level amount of funding. The districts may also have access to additional assistance funds, previously unrestricted capital outlay, and soft capital funds. Another component of educational funding in Arizona is the qualifying levy, which is calculated based on the assessed valuation of all property within a district. A county equalization tax is calculated based on qualifying rates set by the Arizona State Legislature. Finally, there are weightings that provide schools with more revenue based on particular qualifications. This funding excludes any grant or contract funding received by the Navajo for educational purposes, usually associated with BIE schools or policy driven by the U.S. Department of Education.

FEDERALLY FUNDED NAVAJO NATION SCHOOLS

Federal contract/grant school funding applies only to BIE schools. Funding for BIE schools is generated through P.L. 93-638 contracts (funding from the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975) and P.L. 100-297 grants (funding from the Tribally Controlled Schools Act of 1988), which are grants provided to the Navajo Nation for the operation of Tribally controlled schools. Both contracts and grants are administered by the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) within the Department of the Interior (DOI) and are sources provided only to those schools that are BIE designated.

P.L. 93-638 Contracts

The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (1975), Public Law 93-638, provided to the Native tribes of the United States the authority to contract with the U.S. federal government to operate programs serving tribal members; this included provisions for public education. The U.S. Congress has recognized the importance of educational sovereignty in the paradigm of Native self-determination and through 25 U.S.C. 450a has made provisions to provide services to the Native Nations. Congress stated that its goal was to provide the quantity and quality of educational services that would permit Native children to compete in life and to achieve the self-determination essential to a sense of well-being. Under these statutes, the federal government, through the DOI, would provide opportunities for contracting of services, including construction within Native regions by Native tribes. In 25 U.S.C. 450b, Congress outlined the types of construction necessary to aid in the sovereignty of Native tribes, including contracting for the building of schools.

These provisions also apply to services in the category of self-determination contracts. A self-determination contract is an agreement governed by Section 9 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, appropriated to the Secretary of the Interior for the planning and conducting of programs or services within Tribal Nations. These contracts are ultimately operated by Native Tribes, with the grants regulated by sections 552 and 553 of Title V of U.S. Public Law 93-638, which includes access to all financial statements, full disclosure of contract costs, quarterly financial statements, and return of any unexpended revenue.

P.L. 100-297 Grants

P.L. 100-297 laws are written and informed by several statutes placed into legislation as part of 25 U.S.C. 2501 et seq., the Tribally Controlled Schools Act, signed on April 28, 1988. In its provisions, P.L. 100-297 states that the U.S. federal government will provide to tribal entities grants to operate tribally controlled schools. The grants provided to the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas can be used to offset any cost, at the discretion of the grantee, any and all expenditures for educationally related activities, including school operations; academic, educational, and residential guidance and counseling; administrative purposes; and support services, including transportation. This was an effort to provide to the Native Nations the opportunity of self-determination, which the U.S. government believed was dependent upon education. Although increasing federal funding for Native education was a step in the right direction, some scholars believe these grants and the corresponding legislation were written in a manner that impeded self-determination by standardizing curricula, teaching practices, and accountability, thus negating any implementation of Native language, culture, history, and traditions within Native education and impeding the educational success of Native American students (House, 2002; Jensen, 1983; Lomawaima & McCarty, 2002; Tippeconnic, 1999).

RESEARCH APPROACH AND QUESTIONS

This study is the first to examine school finance with an analytical focus on Native American students, specifically Arizona Navajo students. Due to the large number of Navajo Nation students as a population and Arizona’s large proportion of these students, it is crucial to understand empirically how school funding is disbursed within the Navajo Nation in order to later determine its impact on schooling. Gathering this empirical evidence is difficult due to lack of access within the Navajo Nation to the appropriate data and the sample size of the overall population; despite these challenges, this research is now crucial in order to abate some of the structural barriers that exist in Navajo Schooling due to fiscal capacity. In order to alleviate some of these challenges up front, we have retrospectively obtained data for all Navajo public school districts (N = 15) in Arizona (see data sources below). Furthermore, due to the low number of cases, we conducted a longitudinal descriptive analysis (2006–2012) in order to compare Navajo public school districts with Arizona (non-Navajo) public school districts in salient constructs: demographics, academic performance, tax rates and property valuation, and revenues. This longitudinal range will at the very least provide the relevant funding patterns across time, regardless of student population scaling, and help to answer the following research questions for the years 2006–2012:

How did Navajo K–12 public school district demographics compare to Arizona public school districts?

How did Navajo K–12 public school districts perform academically compared to Arizona public school districts?

How did Navajo public school district tax rates and assessed property valuation compare to those of Arizona public school districts?

How did Navajo public school district revenues compare to those of Arizona public school districts?

DATA SOURCES AND DATA COLLECTION

There are serious challenges to collecting data within Navajo Nation school districts, and the lack of Navajo BIE or Navajo private/parochial school information limited the types of analysis conducted. However, the use of publicly available district-level data from 2006 to 2012 for all Arizona school districts f the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) allows for a concise analysis in order to answer the research questions. Since Navajo and Arizona public school districts are funded similarly, we argue that this functions as a better subgroup comparison than would other Navajo districts (BIE and private/parochial). The number of Navajo public school districts is relatively low (N = 15), but we have addressed this issue by longitudinally examining our variables of interest across the constructs (district and student demographic data, achievement data, tax-rate and assessed-valuation data, and revenue data). Table 1 provides the working definitions and descriptions for our measures of analysis.


Table 1. Measures of Analysis

Measure

Description: Short description of each measure chosen for analysis

Total Enrollment

A measure of full-time equivalent student enrollment calculated by adding the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled as of 45 days after classes begin in the fall semester to the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled as of 45 days after classes begin in the spring semester

Number of Schools

Proxy for the numbers of schools in each district

District Enrollment

Proxy for a school district’s enrollment number and average daily attendance rate per 100 students

%FRLP

Percentage of public school district students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch

%ELL

Percentage of public school district students demarcated as English Language Learners

AYP Met

Number (percentage) of school districts meeting No Child Left Behind Average Yearly Progress

AMO Met

Number (percentage) of school districts meeting Arizona’s Annual Measurable Objectives

Graduation Met

Number (percentage) of school districts meeting the No Child Left Behind graduation benchmark

Testing Met

Number (percentage) of school districts meeting the No Child Left Behind testing benchmark

Primary Tax Rate

Used for primary property taxes and cannot exceed the full cash value. Primary property taxes are used to compute the operation and maintenance of school districts, community college districts, and the county.

Primary Assessed Valuation

Amount of tax that is levied on the value of the physical property built on the land

Secondary Tax Rate

Full cash value, or market value, of the property. Taxes derived for bonds, budget overrides, and special districts such as fire, flood control, street lighting, and other limited purpose districts

Secondary Assessed Valuation

Amount of tax that is levied on the cash value of the land, not on physical property built on the land

Primary Assessed Valuation/District($)

Primary property taxes funding the maintenance and operation budgets of state and local governments

Source. Arizona Department of Education, 2015; Maricopa County Department of Finance, 2014.



ANALYSIS

The analysis includes a longitudinal descriptive (i.e., mean, median, mode, and standard deviation) comparison of Arizona Navajo K–12 public school districts (N = 15) with Arizona public school districts (N = 230). We excluded nontraditional charter LEAs (n = 375) due to the number of single charter-school LEAs in Arizona. The dataset comprised publicly available Arizona Department of Education Excel files (Excel v14.0) merged into one consolidated dataset imported to SPSSv22.0. We cleaned, coded, and recoded data fields to standardize the data, allowing for a comparative analysis across years. Our analysis began by selecting Navajo public school districts in our dataset and then comparing them with Arizona public districts (excluding Navajo and nontraditional-LEA districts) from 2006 to 2012. We performed univariate statistical measurement (i.e., mean, median, standard deviation, range, and percentile) to provide general descriptions of individual variables.

There are some limitations to this analysis, which must be addressed in order to effectively maintain the position that Navajo schools require far greater policy and funding nuance than previously employed. As with all secondary data analysis, in particular self-reported data, we cannot verify the accuracy of the data collected. The analysis was also limited to data available through the Arizona Department of Education website.

RESULTS AND ANALYSIS

DISTRICT DEMOGRAPHICS

This section addresses the first question in our study: How do Navajo public school district demographics compare to those of Arizona public school districts? The public school districts in the Navajo Nation are located across three counties in northern Arizona (Apache, Coconino, and Navajo). Table 2 shows that the total number of Navajo students served decreased slightly between 2006 and 2012, from 28,297 to 25,913. All of these districts are relatively small in size, with an average of five schools and 1,700–1,800 students per district. More than two-thirds of all students attending districts on Navajo land are enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP). In fact, all of these districts are labeled Title I, with no Navajo district in any given year having less than 40% of its students in poverty. The percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs) decreased significantly between 2008 and 2012, from 17.5% to 6%. This was due to the miscategorization of ELLs by both Arizona’s Primary Home Language Other Than English (PHLOTE) survey and the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment (AZELLA) instrument used to assess and reclassify ELLs. In whole, both surveys were found to inaccurately reclassify ELLs, often too quickly, before English proficiency was met (Florez, 2010; Garcia, Lawton, & Diniz de Figueiredo, 2010). Table 2 also shows that there are 230 Arizona public school districts in our sample, with approximately 7–8 schools per district. The total student enrollment declined slightly, from 975,916 in 2006 to 925,650 in 2012. This corresponds to a decrease in enrollment per district from 4,625 to 4,305. However, the percentage of students eligible for FRLP increased from 57.1% in 2006 to 66.4% in 2012. In addition, there has also been a significant decrease in ELLs, from 15.3% to 8.7%.

The table indicates that there are more Arizona districts with higher student enrollments than Navajo districts, due to the limited number of rural Navajo districts; however, the general longitudinal trends in both Navajo districts and Arizona districts are more similar than different. For instance, in both sets of districts, total student enrollment and the percentage of students in poverty increased, while the percentage of ELLs decreased significantly. The decrease in ELLs is attributed to the changes in ELL identification and classification instruments in Arizona, while increases in poverty are due to the Great Recession that began in 2008 (Goldenberg & Quach, 2010; Jiménez-Castellanos et al., 2013).


Table 2. Navajo and Arizona District Demographics

Year

Total enrollment

Avg. # schools  

per district

Avg.

district enrollment

%FRLP

%ELL

2006

  Navajo

  Arizona


28,297

975,916


4.8

7.0


1,886

4,625


70.9

57.1


NA

NA

2008

  Navajo

  Arizona


27,574

1,036,449


4.8

7.5


1,838

4,912


69.0

59.1


17.5

15.3

2010

  Navajo

  Arizona


26,992

941,863


2 to 8

7.6


1,799

4,421


69.7

63.5


8.2

9.9

2012

  Navajo

  Arizona


25,913

925,650


4.8

7.7


1,727

4,305


74.0

66.4


6.0

8.7

Source: Arizona Department of Education, 2013


DISTRICT ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE

This section addresses the second question in our study: How do public school districts in the Navajo Nation perform academically compared to Arizona public school districts? Table 3 shows that districts in the Navajo Nation underperformed academically based on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks between 2006 and 2011. In any given year, the number of schools that met overall AYP fluctuated between 2 and 5 out of 15. This number is consistent with the number of schools that met their Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) in math and reading. In addition, the number of school districts meeting their AYP graduation rates decreased from 12 to 8, while the number of districts that tested more than 95% of their students increased from 9 to14. These results mirror the literature that asserts that Native American students are underperforming on AYP measures (NCES, 2012).

Overall, Arizona districts have had mixed results in their academic performance. For instance, the percentage of districts meeting AYP and AMO decreased between 2006 and 2011, from 14% to 6%, yet the percentage of districts meeting the graduation rate increased by approximately 30% from 2006 to 2012, and Arizona districts exhibited a 30% increase in student testing benchmarks. Thus far it is unclear how Arizona increased the percentage of districts meeting graduation rates, given the decrease in aggregate district math and reading achievement during this time period. It is possible this anomalous finding is due in part to Arizona’s implementation of the AZ Learns accountability system, which evaluates schools based on AIMS scores, academic progress, graduation rates, and English Language Learner success rates. Due to the scale of AZ Learns, one high measure on a given benchmark can offset a low measure in another area. This change in state accountability would account for the fluctuation in AYP from year to year and the overall high graduation-rate versus low AYP incongruence in this analysis. In 2015, Arizona's four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, as calculated by the Arizona Department of Education, was reported as approximately 78% (Arizona Department of Education, 2015).

There is a widening academic achievement gap between Arizona and Navajo K–12 school districts, with Arizona districts outperforming Navajo districts on both AYP and AMO percentages met, reflected in graduation rates. The percentage of Navajo districts meeting their graduation benchmark declined from 80% in 2006 to 53.3% in 2011, while this measure increased from 43% to 73% for Arizona districts over the same period. Although the decline in the Navajo graduation rate has been documented in past research, this growing achievement gap counters recent national trends showing a slight decrease in the achievement gap between White students and other minority students (e.g., African American and Latino) (Deyhle, 1995; Faircloth & Tippeconnic III, 2010; NCES, 2012).


Table 3. Comparing Navajo and Arizona District Adequate Yearly Progress

Year

AYP met

AMO met

Graduation met

Testing met

2006

   Navajo

   Arizona


3/15 (20%)

93/198 (47%)


5/15 (33.3%)

87/198 (43.9%)


12/15 (80%)

85/198 (44%)


9/15 (60%)

128/198 (64.6%)

2008

   Navajo

   Arizona


5/15 (33.3%)

93/200 (46.5%)


6/15 (40%)

106/200 (53%)


12/15 (80%)

106/116 (91%)


10/15 (66.7%)

173/200 (86.5%)

2010

   Navajo

   Arizona


4/15 (26.7%)

90/23 (44.3%)


3/15 (20%)

60/157 (38.2)


11/15 (73.3%)

67/96 (69.8%)


14/15 (93.3%)

157/203 (77.3%)

2012

   Navajo

   Arizona


N/A

N/A


N/A

N/A


N/A

N/A


N/A

N/A

Source: Arizona Department of Education, 2013


TAX RATES AND ASSESSED PROPERTY VALUATION

This section addresses the third question in our study: How do tax rates and assessed property valuations of public school districts in the Navajo Nation compare to those of Arizona public districts? Table 4 shows that the Navajo district primary tax rate remained somewhat stable from 2006 to 2012, ranging between 1.07 and 1.33. During this same period, Navajo district primary assessed valuation increased from $36 million to $47 million. The Navajo district secondary tax rate decreased from 1.62 to 1.14, yet the total assessed valuation increased by approximately $10 million. The total revenue generated in primary assessed valuation was consistently similar to the total revenue generated in secondary assessed valuation across the period studied. These similarities can be explained by how Arizona estimates both primary and secondary assessed valuation. The primary value cannot exceed the full cash value and in any year cannot increase by more than 10%, or 25% of the difference between the past year’s primary value and the new secondary value. The secondary value is the full cash value of the property (Maricopa County Department of Finance, 2014).

Arizona district primary and secondary tax rates fluctuated but ultimately declined from 2006 to 2012. Primary tax rates dropped from 3.52 to 2.87, and secondary tax rates decreased from 1.03 to 0.83. Arizona district primary assessed valuation increased from $400 million in 2006 to $725 million in 2010 but then decreased to $575 million in 2012. A similar pattern was found with the secondary assessed valuation; the revenue generated increased from $276 million in 2006 to $799 million in 2010 and then decreased to $558 million in 2012. Moreover, the total revenue generated in primary assessed valuation was significantly higher than that from secondary assessed valuation in 2006 and 2007; however, secondary assessed valuation generated significantly more revenue than primary assessed valuation in 2008 and 2009, while in 2010, 2011, and 2012 these totals were very similar. Interestingly, both primary and secondary assessed valuations increased from 2006 to 2012, while at the same time tax rates decreased (Hoffman & Rex, 2008).

In comparing Navajo and Arizona district tax rates and assessed valuations, three clear findings emerge. First, Arizona districts are taxed at significantly higher primary tax rates, while Navajo districts levy higher secondary tax rates. Second, Navajo primary and secondary assessed valuation increased steadily throughout the study period, while Arizona districts saw much more fluctuation. Finally, Navajo district primary assessed valuation per district was higher in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012, while Arizona district primary assessed valuation per district was higher in 2009 and 2010.


Table 4. Comparing Navajo and Arizona District Tax Rates and Assessed Valuation

Year

Primary Tax Rate

Primary Assessed Valuation ($)

Secondary Tax Rate

Secondary Assessed Valuation ($)

Primary Assessed Valuation/district ($)

2006

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.07

3.52


36,420,067

386,082,977


1.62

1.03


37,004,441

276,322,506


2.43M

1.74M

2007

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.22

3.49


37,862,530

437,548,191


1.84

0.95


38,404,276

304,335,362


2.52M

1.97M

2008

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.22

3.25


39,853,348

569,573,311


1.41

0.90


40,732,198

645,815,510


2.66M

2.57M

2009

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.11

3.14


42,417,587

662,784,942


1.43

0.73


44,178,061

770,853,074


2.83M

2.99M

2010

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.33

2.86


44,964,486

724,080,727


1.39

0.70


47,447,274

799,485,566


3.0M

3.22M

2011

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.08

2.71


46,988,562

667,921,253


1.32

0.79


48,401,517

688,448,926


3.13M

2.98M

2012

   Navajo

   Arizona


1.30

2.87


47,138,258

557,738,276


1.14

0.83


47,606,609

558,915,918


3.14M

2.48M

Source: Arizona Department of Education, 2013



REVENUE SOURCES

This section addresses the fourth and last question in our study: How do the revenues of public school districts in the Navajo Nation compare to those of Arizona public school districts? Table 5 shows that local revenue in Navajo districts was stable between 2008 and 2012, generating approximately $2,200 per pupil. State revenue decreased by about $1,000 per pupil between 2008 and 2010 but was relatively stable from 2010 to 2012. Intermediate revenue was nonexistent in 2008 and 2009 but increased to $367 per pupil in 2012. Federal revenue increased from $5,594 per pupil in 2008 to $7,076 per pupil in 2011, but then decreased to $6,255 per pupil in 2012. However, federal revenue was the highest revenue source in Navajo districts during four out of the five years in our study. It should be noted that it is unusual for federal revenue to surpass state or local revenue in public school districts. The Navajo district total revenue per pupil fluctuated, starting at $13,696 per pupil in 2008 and increasing to $15,045 per pupil in 2011, then decreasing to $13,797 in 2012. This fluctuation was caused primarily by changes in state and federal revenue.

Arizona district funding from each revenue source was somewhat volatile during this period. For instance, local and federal revenue levels increased steadily from 2008 on, peaking in 2011, then suffered a decrease in 2012. Local revenue was the largest revenue source in Arizona districts during four out of the five years studied. At the same time, state revenues decreased by over $2,000 per pupil between 2008 and 2012. Only intermediate revenues showed a consistent increase, from $63 to $438 per pupil. Despite the fluctuations by revenue source, total revenue for Arizona districts was relatively consistent in most years, generating approximately $12,500 to $13,000 per pupil, except in 2011, when there was a dramatic increase in total revenue, primarily due to increased federal revenue. This increase in federal funding was most likely associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat. 115 (2009).

Comparing Navajo district to Arizona district revenue by source indicates that Navajo districts generated slightly more total revenue per pupil in each study year except 2011. However, Arizona districts generated significantly more (approximately $2,500 per pupil) in combined state and local revenue than Navajo districts on a yearly basis. This gap in combined state and local revenue is primarily due to differences in local revenue. Thus, the study begins to suggest that Arizona’s equalization formula is not effectively counterbalancing the impact of property wealth differences between Navajo districts and Arizona districts (Jiménez-Castellanos & Martinez, 2014).


Table 5. Comparing Navajo and Arizona District Revenue per Pupil by Source

Year

Local

State

Combined

local/state

Intermediate

Federal

Total

2008

  Navajo

  Arizona


2,171

5,112


5,930

5,815


8,101

10,927


1

63


5,594

1,523


13,696

12,513

2010

  Navajo

  Arizona


2,379

5,685


4,853

4,063


7,232

9,748


204

367


7,021

2,454


14,457

12,569

2012

  Navajo

  Arizona


2,266

5,966


4,908

3,733


7,174

9,699


367

438


6,255

2,228


13,797

12,365

 Source: Arizona Department of Education, 2013


DISCUSSION

Between 2008 and 2015, the Arizona state legislature cut funding for education by 17.5%, making it one of the states with the deepest funding cuts to education nationally (Morrison, 2015). In 2015 the legislature cut an additional $113,457,200 of district additional assistance funding (DAA), approximately $135 per student, and an overall $352.4 million from Basic Student Aid (BSA) funding allocated to school districts (Arizona Revised Statutes Title 15, 2015). In this time Arizona has placed near the bottom nationally in K–12 per-pupil funding, spending significantly less than the national per-pupil average of $11,770. Currently Arizona provides $7,528 per pupil, placing the state's per-pupil funding at 49th overall (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). These funding cuts to education affect what is possible and limit access to what is necessary for students to achieve at the highest levels (Jiménez-Castellanos et al., 2013).

The Arizona legislature has battled against raising per-pupil funding, choosing instead to litigate against spending more on students (e.g., Flores v. Arizona, 1999), while providing greater opportunity for the expansion of school choice (e.g., Education Saving Accounts). The ever-increasing school-choice agenda can potentially impede traditional LEAs from operating effectively by generating fiscal stress in districts that have operated on budgets previously thinned by Arizona’s legislative cutbacks (Arsen & Ni, 2012).

Arizona’s response to its own substantial educational funding cuts has been reactionary, placing pressure on school districts to make do with less. Recent legislation (i.e. Senate Bill 1332) outlined an agenda of funneling money away from traditional LEAs through vouchering, without taking into account the state of funding that exists, adversely impacting students of color and low-income students, including Navajo students. These fiscal policies continue the history of deprivation for the Diné. They directly affect state funding that could potentially mitigate the effects of lower levels of local tax revenue on Navajo-centric and Navajo Reservation land by supplementing lower local fiscal capacity. The current Arizona legislative agenda has expanded chartering aggressively in the Navajo reservation and Navajo residential areas, potentially funneling money away from schools that are already in dire need of funding.

Fundamentally, this study has highlighted three points necessitating further discussion: (a) Arizona’s attempts to remedy the Navajo achievement gap; (b) the disparity in combined state/local revenue and federal revenue between Navajo districts and Arizona districts; and (c) the growing Navajo achievement gap.

ARIZONA’S INEFFECTIVE REMEDY

Arizona’s answer to reducing the achievement gap has been large-scale lobbying for school choice, enacting laws to deplete the autonomy of traditional LEAs (Hess, Maranto, & Milliman, 2001; Hoxby, 2004; Ladd, 2002). January of 2015 saw this legislative agenda continue with the passage of SB 1332. This bill was promoted as an empowerment scholarship account (ESA) expansion bill allowing reservation students to utilize empowerment scholarships as accounts to provide options for parents to choose how and where to educate their children. One of the caveats is that students are allowed up to 90% of the funding available to students in public school districts, thus automatically decreasing available funding per pupil by at least 10%. These accounts have also been found to have deleterious effects on the intradistrict dispersion of funding.

A 2013 Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice report (A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice) examined ESAs and found that, overwhelmingly, ESA funding was spent by parents on schools outside of traditional LEAs. Another effect of ESAs is that parents must waive their child’s right to a public school education, something that is dangerous when considering what Arizona's education system actually promises to all students. Under the its state constitution—whether this provision is adhered to or not—Arizona promises “a fair and equal” level of education for all students, yet ESAs allow this constitutional rule to be voided due to personal, often uninformed, choice. ESA funding ultimately disavows any guarantee to a fair or equal program of instruction for participants in the “empowerment” program.

In 2015 the legislature also passed HB2478, a Technical Education District bill, allowing districts to offer career and technical education courses on charter school campuses. In addition, it enacted SB 1074, which prohibits traditional LEAs from excluding charters when bidding on property. Finally, the legislature also passed HB 2208, requiring anyone wanting to file a claim against a public school to enact this litigation within 180 days after the claimable action occurred. The 2015 budget also provided funds for the Access our Best Public Schools and Arizona Public School Achievement Districts, meant for use by outstanding public schools, in order to fund replication and expansion of “high-achieving” schools.

These bills, budgetary line items, and legislation adversely affect schools operating on reservation land by limiting funding available to students, expanding chartering on Arizona reservation land, limiting education to technical and career-oriented education, and stifling litigation against charter institutions. While this group of bills may seem like a step forward when considered against the backdrop of a $3 million cut to charter funding (which shrank from $10M proposed cut) and the current $113,457,200 cut to traditional LEAs, they produce a scenario for education in Arizona that effectively promotes charter schooling as a novel option. Arizona has by default invested in charter schooling, without taking into account that nontraditional LEAs and charter schools simply do not generate better achievement results (Bettinger, 2005; Hoxby, 2004; Ni, 2009).

NAVAJO REVENUE DISPARITIES

Our study examined only publicly funded Navajo districts serving the Navajo Nation, not BIE schools. This is important to note due to Arizona’s current funding mechanism, which provides the same types of funding for all Arizona public schools regardless of governance. Our analysis indicates that Navajo public districts generate significantly less local revenue than Arizona districts. Furthermore, examining the combined state and local revenue results, it is clear that Navajo districts are not generating sufficient state revenue to counterbalance the disparities in local property wealth. Currently, Arizona uses an equalization formula that presumably addresses funding inequities due to differences in property wealth, in order to provide all students with a uniform compulsory education (Arizona State Legislature, 2015). Arizona’s funding mechanism should redistribute state revenue to overcome shortages in local revenue, but this empirical analysis shows that the offset may not be sufficient to overcome the deep local revenue disparities in Navajo districts. Funding is not only an issue of fairness and equity, but has implications for student outcomes (Jiménez-Castellanos & Martinez, 2014).

This analysis has highlighted the substantial federal revenue generation that has supplemented lower local and state revenue generation of education funding. Nationally, revenue from federal sources accounts for approximately 12% of public school funding, the smallest proportion of public funds provided to school districts (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2011). Navajo districts, however, generate significant amounts of revenue from not only Title I funding, but Title VII funding as well (Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Sects. 6301 & 7401, 1965). Title VII funds are federal revenue sources provided to those schools serving only Tribal students (Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Sect. 7401, 1965). In addition, during the years of analysis, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funneled revenue toward education, thus driving federal capacity up. As a short-term stimulus law, ARRA was not meant to supplement historically longitudinal shortfalls in state funding for education; moreover, it was meant as a short-term fiscal stimulator for state-level infrastructure, including education, that would help mitigate the effects of the great recession. This type of funding has since not been available to states en masse, yet Arizona continued to cut funding during our years of analysis. Furthermore, these cuts in funding, coupled with the current legislative agenda of dismantling traditional education for the sake of private (e.g., SB1431) education parallels the continued exhaustion of sovereignty for the Diné.

These contemporary laws once again situate the Navajo Nation squarely within the context of poverty, taking away funding crucially necessary for growth, forcing overreliance on Federal regulation, and allowing heteronormative, hegemonic Anglo policy to dictate the privatization of Navajo education (Young, 1990). Furthermore, the current achievement literature would lead to one finite conclusion: Deficits in combined local/state revenue for education would negatively impact Navajo student achievement (Jiménez-Castellanos et al., 2013). Thus, given the historical context, there is continued reason for concern as Arizona continually meanders when presented with school funding disparities. Currently, the state chooses ineffective, often obtrusive, policy that further damages public compulsory schooling and fights against adhering to any resolution that would significantly increase the funding levels directly flowing to students.

Finally, there exists strong empirical evidence suggesting that money and resources do matter (Baker, 2012; Hedges, Laine, & Greenwald, 1994; Jiménez-Castellanos, 2010). One major line of research examines school resources, as dependent on funding, affecting student outcomes (Ehrenberg, Brewer, Gamoran, & Willms, 2001; Hoxby, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Reschovsky & Imazeki, 2001). This line of research shows that an improvement in school funding equitability definitively leads to better student outcomes (Berliner, 2009, 2012). With Arizona currently placed 49th in per-pupil spending, it would appear that it is at a marked disadvantage for improved achievement (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).

GROWING NAVAJO ACHIEVEMENT GAP

Using scores from the NAEP, researchers have shown that Latino and African American students, although still trailing their Caucasian peers, improved in mathematics and reading and slightly narrowed the achievement gap between1992 and 2007 (Hemphill & Vanneman, 2011; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Lee, 2002; Lee & Mcintire, 2000; Orfield & Lee, 2005). This same improvement has not occurred in Tribal communities. Our analysis parallels what research has proposed: Tribal students are trailing their non-Native peers, not only here in Arizona, but nationally as well. Furthermore, the gap in achievement between Tribal students and non-Native students is widening (NCES, 2012). This widening of achievement is demonstrated nationally in AYP and graduation rates and is further reflected in our results. The literature suggests that recent policy changes may have impeded Native students' ability to close the achievement gap, creating prohibitive curricular and fiscal constraints that once again value certain forms of knowledge and knowledge bases as fundamentally, and hierarchically, more vital to the success of students than more traditional forms of knowledge and knowledge acquisition (Anderson, Medrich, & Fowler, 2007; Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education Office of Educational Research and Statistics, n.d.).

The most recent federal educational policies, the Common Core Standards (CCS), Race to the Top (RTT), No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), purported to focus on the equalization of education for at-risk students and to mandate a more consistent curriculum across the United States. As part of the No Child Left Behind Act (2002), Arizona created its own accountability system in order to measure student academic success. These measures, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) and the Arizona Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for students, were developed by Arizona in response to increased accountability standards (Arizona Department of Education, 2014). The changes proposed by ESSA have not dissuaded Arizona from continuing the metric testing course, as students must still be tested in math and English language arts once a year in third through eighth grades, and once in high school. Even with greater ESSA flexibility, the state-mandated metricizing of student knowledge will continue to assert rigidity over the types of knowledge valued by the state's educational office. Furthermore, Tribal education scholars have highlighted the potentially damaging effects of this recent legislation on Native students (Bekis, 2008; Dee & Jacob, 2011; McGuinn, 2012; Patrick, 2008). This literature has highlighted federal and state policies as constraining educational sovereignty within Diné society, stifling culturally relevant education, and inhibiting full self-determination (Austin, 2009; Balter & Grossman, 2009; McCarty, 2009; Wauneka, 2008). In whole, the Navajo have attempted to assert their educational sovereignty through policy (Title X, Title II) but have been unable to fully incorporate Navajo culture, language, and history into the Diné curriculum. This need is addressed in TribalCrit literature as a necessary component of education in order to address Tribal student learning barriers (McCarty, 2014; Meier & Wood, 2004; Tippeconnic, 1999). Furthermore, without the necessary resources to create Tribally inclusive education for Native American students, they may continue to academically lag behind their of-grade peers.

CONCLUSION

This study is guided by a principal acceptance that TribalCrit can help explain how educational policies are managed in a way that promotes social, economic, and educational exclusion. CRT validates the inequality and biases of current funding mechanisms by highlighting the structural and political influences behind them and seeks to understand how the current power structure displaces social justice. This study conducts a comparative longitudinal exploratory descriptive analysis from 2006 to 2012 examining the educational trends and patterns in Arizona K–12 Navajo public school districts. The study has two major findings: There is a clear and growing achievement gap between Navajo and Arizona districts, and Arizona’s equalization formula is not effectively counterbalancing the impact of local property wealth, as shown by the disparity in combined state and local revenue between Navajo districts and Arizona districts.

Our findings indicate that Arizona must address policy and practice in order to remedy the educational disparities between Navajo students and their non-Navajo peers. Previous research has asserted that the sovereign Navajo Nation must inculcate Diné language, culture, and history into the curriculum in order to improve Navajo student outcomes (Cody, 2012; McCarty, Romero-Little, & Zepeda, 2006; Ortiz & HeavyRunner). To accomplish this, Navajo Nation schools require agency to designate priorities and state funding to meet those priorities. Inclusively, if traditional pedagogy and policy driving this pedagogy could shift perspectives to include culturally relevant curriculum, Tribal language, and specific Tribal history taught by Tribal elders, Native students might have the opportunity to begin closing the pervasive achievement gap (Parsons-Yazzie, 1995). This means a Navajo school system created from within, including a reframing of contemporary educational policy to create provisions for Tribal groups, alternative testing and accountability systems, teacher certification and training, and alternative pedagogy (Bowman, 2013; Lomawaima, 2000; Lomawaima & McCarty, 2002; Manuelito, 2005; McCarty, Wallace, Lynch, & Benally, 1991; Spolsky, 2002).

Traditional accountability measures do not include provisions for alternative curriculum, testing, or teacher training that incorporate nonnormative pedagogy and learning into districts. These traditional accountability measures have further harmed Navajo educational providence in a manner that is conjunctive to the post-colonial educational imperative to strip away Native traditions and customs by any means necessary, including force, for the sake of heteronormative Anglo-European hegemony (Ryan, 2004; Swisher, 1996). Currently, the educational policies in place in Arizona continue to augment the Anglo power structure through diminishment of funding, promotion of educational privatization, and encouragement of federal reliance.

Arizona has relied heavily on federal funding in order to address various student needs, yet state apportionment has neglected to fully provide adequate funding for Navajo communities. Arizona applies multiple funding weights toward different student groups in order to offset potential barriers to learning. One example is the ELL weight of 11.5%, which provides schools increased funding over the base amount based on the number of ELLs in a school or district. Arizona also provides different weights for students classified into varying special education strata. The findings of this examination indicate that Arizona must begin reevaluating its weighting toward Tribal students when accounting for student differences and inability, thus considering the multiple dimensionality of district need and Tribal nuance. Lacking this level of cultural nuance further strips away the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, to the detriment of its students, and precludes the possibility of walking amongst two worlds.

This study highlights a unique yet important area of research, Navajo education finance. However, significantly more research is needed to better understand Navajo education finance, and school-finance researchers must begin to develop a line of empirical scholarly literature that goes beyond this type of analysis and at least attempts to measure and infer the types of resources needed or absent that could potentially aid Tribal student learning. Our analysis is unable to determine the amount of funding necessary to truly impact these special groups, or any weighting increases based on subclassifications, but does suggest at least a reevaluation of the funding mechanism for Tribal education. We have examined only gross funding dispersion across districts, not schools; although the sample size of Navajo Nation schools is small, it is important to recognize that Arizona’s equalization formula should counteract local funding disparities in these districts.

Through this publication we hope to spark interest among school-finance researchers, who would also immerse themselves in cultural conversations to stimulate Tribal educational growth and sovereignty, including Native American scholars with the potential to fully inculcate themselves into two worlds—Native and Anglo—and begin to conduct research in this much-needed area. Without this type of research, examining the nuances of Tribal education, juxtaposed against educational fiscal needs across Tribal nations, we may continue to see continued gaps in achievement, with little to no resolution.

Moving forward, Arizona may need to reexamine the state school funding formula to ensure that it is countering the effects of differences in local property wealth and uniformly funding all students. Furthermore, given the already existing questions surrounding funding equitability for other student populations, such as English Language Learners (ELLs) (i.e. Flores v. Arizona, 2008; Proposition 203), the Arizona legislature may need to act on its entire funding structure, not just those portions reflecting local property wealth. Finally, if Navajo districts are generating insufficient funding at the local level, this may have a ripple effect on achievement and learning within Navajo districts, potentially causing an even deeper achievement divide between Navajo and other students and requiring a remedy beyond that which Arizona is currently providing.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 5, 2019, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22656, Date Accessed: 1/19/2022 5:48:25 AM

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About the Author
  • David Martinez
    University of South Carolina
    E-mail Author
    DAVID G. MARTINEZ, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policies in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina. He has worked extensively in marginalized, LatinX, and Native American communities as an advocate, researcher, and teacher. His research focuses on the impact of school finance policy and state, local, and federal fiscal capacity on the lives of traditionally marginalized, underrepresented students of diverse language, race, national origin, and culture. His current research projects include an examination of ELL funding utility and operationalization, a comparison of graduation-rate proxy calculations in Florida, and an analysis of tax policy on fiscal capacity in South Carolina.
  • Oscar Jiménez-Castellanos
    Santa Clara University
    E-mail Author
    OSCAR JIMÉNEZ-CASTELLANOS, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Founding Director of Latinx Education Research Center (LERC) and Director of the Educational Leadership Program at Santa Clara University. Previously he was an assistant professor (2008-2014) and associate professor (2014-2018) in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University (ASU). He also served as a Visiting Scholar in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley with a courtesy affiliation in the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) at Stanford University in 2016-17. He has published extensively in the area of K-12 education finance, policy and parent engagement and its impact on opportunity, equity and outcomes in low-income ethnically and linguistically diverse communities.
  • Victor Begay
    North Idaho College
    E-mail Author
    VICTOR H. BEGAY’s cultural history begins with the his tribal clans: ÁshĮĮhíí (Salt People Clan), Táchii’niiRed (Running Into The Water People Clan), Naakaidine’é (Mexican Clan), and Kiyaa’áanii (Towering House People Clan). Dr. Begay has assisted as a mentor in linguistically, culturally, historically, and socioeconomically diverse communities, including Native American communities, for over 10 years. Through this service to his community he has provided positive encouragement and motivation through sharing of personal connections with traditional values and contemporary ideas and has worked to engage native students in native languages, language familiarity, career preparedness, college preparedness, and financial readiness. His research interests include identity development, education policy, and American Indian students in off-reservation public schools. Dr. Begay served as the Arizona State Chapter president of the National Association for Multicultural Education.
 
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