A popular myth claims we severely underfund schools in Arizona. For years, teachers unions and other education interest groups have led a successful “crusade” in the media and the state capitol to spread this idea. “We have reduced education funding levels to the point where they’re really not sustainable for our students and our teachers,” says Ann-Eve Pedersen, who is leading a voter initiative to raise taxes to increase education funding.
Here are some key facts about education spending in Arizona:
1. When you add up all funding sources, Arizona now spends $9,233 per student, a 9 percent increase from 2000, after adjusting for inflation.
2. During the worst years of the recession, 2009-2011, operational per student spending only decreased 5 percent.
3. When you look back just a few years, from 2006 to 2011, per student spending increased by 10 percent, even accounting for the 5 percent dip during the recession. Federal data show that any cuts to operational dollars have been restored by funding increases.
4. This year alone, education spending in the state budget increased by $28 million dollars.
5. Between 2006 and 2011, 183 of 218 Arizona districts experienced an increase in total per student spending. Only 31 school districts saw a decline in total spending during that time period.
6. According to the state auditor general, these consistent funding increases have not led to more money being spent in the classroom. In 2011, Arizona districts only spent 54.7 percent of their funds on classroom expenses, “a record low since [the auditor’s office] began monitoring classroom dollars 11 years ago.”
Moreover, higher spending per student hasn’t bought students higher test scores. Arizona student achievement has been virtually unchanged for 20 years. Today, nearly 3 out of 4 fourth graders can’t read at grade level. And, although our scores still rank near the bottom on many indicators, Arizona students score as well as or better than students in some states where per student funding is double or almost triple what we spend. In short, there is not a direct relationship between money and achievement.
Voters should reject the latest attempt to raise the state sales tax to increase education funding, and Arizona lawmakers should commit the state to reforms that are proven to increase student achievement.