Phoenix--Funding for Arizona public schools is a passionately debated subject. But the truth is, the state's complex accounting system makes it hard for policymakers to know exactly what is being spent on education. New figures released today take the guess work out of it and show that per-pupil funding in Arizona is more than $9,500.
The state provides funding to school districts in various categories. In addition to state funding, school districts receive money from local property taxes and other sources. The $9,500 figure is supported by a recent Joint Legislative Budget Committee study. It is also about $1,000 more per-pupil than the state spent during the 2003-2004 school year.
"One result of this many-layered approach is a general inability to easily determine how much money is associated with a single student in a single district or to understand how balance sheets are affected as students move around the state," said Dr. Susan Aud, senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation and author of the updated Goldwater Institute report "Student-Based Funding: How to Make Arizona Public Education Finance More Transparent and Accountable."
This study is an update of two previous studies Dr. Aud conducted for the Goldwater Institute. The first and most comprehensive explanation of public education funding, "A Guide to Understanding State Funding of Arizona Public School Students," was published in 2005. It was followed by the 2006 report "Opening the Books: 2006 Annual Report on Arizona Public School Finance." Both found that per-pupil funding was consistently under-reported in the news media and by education-related interest groups.
Dr. Aud calls on education policymakers to make school funding more transparent and easier to understand by simplifying the funding databases and using standardized terminology. She also recommends converting funding formulas to a standard per-child formula that would allow for easier accounting and funding portability.
The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.