Time for an override or accountability?

Posted on March 22, 2007 | Type: In the News | Author: Linda Bentley
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CCUSD In January 2005, the Goldwater Institute and the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation jointly produced a policy report titled: A Guide to Understanding State Funding of Arizona Public School Students, to accurately reflect public school finance by detailing the underlying funding formulas and mechanisms.

It took over six months to compile the data and produce the report.

Recommendations made in the 2005 report included, The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) should improve transparency by making financial data available at a finer level of detail, and making it more readily accessible to the public.

In April 2006, the Goldwater Institute produced an updated report to reflect the 2003/2004 school year and summarize the changes to per-student spending for Arizonas 218 school districts.

Additionally, the 2006 report states, The complexity of Arizona public school finance makes gathering basic information extremely difficult and noted, Overall, there has been no significant improvement in the transparency, simplicity or accountability of Arizona public school finance.

Because the Superintendents Annual Financial Report is compiled using self-reported, un-audited individual Annual Financial Reports, an additional recommendation was made for all financial information and student enrollment data to be audited.

The report points out discrepancies discovered during the compilation of raw data, whereas the ADE reported 842,598 students, while the Superintendents Annual Financial Report, reflected a total student count of 859,023, and states, There should be no discrepancies over a matter as basic as student counts.

The National Education Association, the nations largest teachers union, claims Arizona spends only $5,222 per student. Education Week reflects perstudent spending at $6,331. In reality, the average total spending per public school student in Arizona for 2003/2004 was between $8,000 and $8,500, which, according to the Goldwater Institute report, is very near the national average of $8,900.

Cave Creek Unified School District, on the other hand, without including additional funding for any of the special needs categories, received the following per student for 2003/2004:

Grades K-3: $10,617.16
Grades 4-8: $10,436.25
Grades 9-12: $10,882.05

For comparison purposes, following are the 2003/2004 perstudent amounts for the Deer Valley, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills unified school districts:

Grades K-3: $8,110.52
Grades 4-8: $7,939.04
Grades 9-12: $8,367.57
Grades K-3: $8,014.06
Grades 4-8: $7,837.26
Grades 9-12: $8,273.25
Grades K-3: $8,453.68
Grades 4-8: $8,272.77
Grades 9-12: $8,716.31
Grades K-3: $9,092.96
Grades 4-8: $8,921.39
Grades 9-12: $9,347.79

According to CCUSD Associate Superintendent of Finance Kent Frison, during his Budget 101 presentations, if voters do not approve the Maintenance and Operations Override in May, it will mean a reduction of $872,000 per year for the next three years and the district would have to fire 54 teachers (18 teachers per year over the next three years).

Realistically speaking, it translates to a reduction of approximately $152.29 per student per year ($872,000 divided by 5,726 students), leaving CCUSD still well above the national, state and local averages in per-student funding.

A couple of parents advocating passage of the May 15 override election claim the extra money has allowed the district to produce seven excelling schools out of eight.

Others, who have taken the districts word it needs more money as gospel, have said they would gladly pay higher property taxes, if it means a better education for their kids.

Meanwhile, SUSD seems to be able to produce predominantly excelling schools with anywhere from 26 to 31 percent less spending per student and, in several instances, a 20 percent higher pupil to teacher ratio, a larger number of students qualifying for free & reduced lunches and more English language learners.

All four schools in the FHUSD have achieved excelling labels, also with significantly less spending per-student.

For more information, visit www.GoldwaterInstitute.org and click on the K-12 Funding Index on the right hand side of the screen to read the entire report or look up data for any of Arizonas 218 school districts.

Information about school labels, district demographics, AIMS and other test results can be found online at www.GreatSchools.com.

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