Are Arizona Schools Underfunded? New Report Says No

Posted on October 11, 2012 | Type: Press Release
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Contact: Rob Kramer, (602) 633-8961

Ballots are hitting mailboxes this week and along with electing a President and other officeholders, Arizona voters will cast their votes on nine propositions. One of the most contentious of those, Proposition 204, would permanently raise the state’s sales tax to fund schools.

The Prop 204 campaign is urging Arizona voters to pass this $1 billion tax increase because Arizona’s schools have been devastated by budget cuts during the recession. But a new analysis of school spending over the past few years shows that funding dedicated to students hasn’t been cut, despite the recession. Here are the key facts from today’s Goldwater Institute analysis of government school spending data:

  1. Arizona schools spend $9,233 per student when you add up all funding sources, a 9 percent increase from 2000.
  1. Education spending did not take a recession-time hit; in fact, education spending is up 10 percent since 2006. In general, there are two pots of money that fund schools in Arizona. One funds items related to what happens inside schools, like teacher salaries, books, and extra-curricular activities. The other pot funds things outside schools, like new buildings and building maintenance. The pot of money for what happens inside schools has increased every year, even during the recession. Money dedicated to buildings did decrease, but only for two years and total spending only decreased by 5 percent. One reason it decreased was because student enrollment leveled off during the recession because our population growth slowed and we didn’t need to build as many new buildings. 
  1. Even during the recession, most school districts saw an increase in total school funding. Between 2006 and 2011, 183 of 218 Arizona school districts received an increase in total per student spending. Only 31 school districts saw a decline in total spending during that time period.
  1. Despite consistent increases in spending dedicated to students, districts send less to classrooms than ever before. The state Auditor General issued a report this year finding that as student funding has gone up, money sent to classrooms has actually gone down. Only 55 cents of every education dollar makes it to the classroom. That's lower than the national average and it’s the lowest dollar to classroom figure in the last 11 years. Prop 204 directs school districts to dole out the new tax revenue, but there are no requirements to get the money to the classroom.
  1. Education spending was increased by $28 million this year. In the 2013 budget approved by the Legislature this spring, education spending was increased by $28 million. Spending on education accounts for nearly half of the state’s general budget, more than any other spending category and money dedicated to students has increased more than 100 percent in the last four decades.
  1. Spending more on education doesn’t improve student achievement—not in Arizona, and not in states that spend more. When all the funding sources are added up, Arizona spends $9,233 per student annually, and still three out of four Arizona 4th graders can’t read at grade level and our test scores have been the same for 20 years. On standardized tests our students outperformed or performed as well as students from states that spent more. Arizona spends half as much per student as Washington, D.C. and New York state, yet Arizona 4th graders outperform 4th graders in D.C. and score as well as students in New York in math.

To read this new analysis, The Myth of Education Cuts and Why Money Can’t Buy an A+, click here.

To read more about Proposition 204 and the facts about where the money from the tax increase will go, click here to read Proposition 204: Not as Advertised.

The Goldwater Institute protects America’s greatest inheritance – the liberty and economic freedom of the individual – by holding government accountable and standing up for regular taxpayers just like you.

To interview Jonathan Butcher about education spending or Prop 204, please contact Rob Kramer at (602) 633-8961

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