State still lags in education spending
PHOENIX — Arizona is near the bottom of all states when it comes to spending money on public education, according to a new report.
The study by the U.S. Census Bureau shows per pupil spending in Arizona at $7,848. That compares with $10,615 nationwide and puts the state ahead of only Idaho and Utah.
But the report also shows that this isn't simply a function of Arizona being a less expensive place to live, a figure that is repeatedly reflected in the fact that per capita personal income in the state lags the national average.
The Census Bureau also looked at classroom spending in each state based on personal income for that state.
That, however, moved Arizona up in the rankings only a bit. Its figure of $40.55 for each $1,000 of personal income left it ahead of only Tennessee, Florida and the District of Columbia.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the state had to cut education funding in prior years to balance the budget. He said some of that was restored, with an additional $177 million put into public schools this year.
“If per pupil funding were the most important factor, parents would be rushing to send their children to school in Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C.,'' he said. “They have the highest per pupil funding in the nation. But they also have the worst performance.''
State School Superintendent John Huppenthal agreed.
“Contrary to popular perception, our education system is slightly above the national average. When you have our cost equation, it means we run a much, much more cost-effective school system than any other state in the nation.''
Huppenthal acknoweldged that figures from last year's National Assessment of Education Progress actually show the state lagged the national average in each of the four categories where students in fourth and eighth grade were tested. That includes math, reading, science and writing.
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, Kavanagh's Senate counterpart, was more willing to link funding to academic achievement. “Of course it's a factor,'' he said, though it's not the “total picture.''
Shooter said, though, lawmakers had little choice when the economy went in the tank — and tax collections shrank — to make some of the spending cuts in education. He said part of that is because other big-ticket items, like the state's Medicaid program, are protected at least in part by voter-approved requirements, making them off-limits to legislative cuts.
But Ann-Eve Pedersen disputed the contention there is no correlation between money for schools and achievement. More to the point, she said there is a minimum funding requirement — and Arizona is below it.
She is spearheading an effort to permanently extend the temporary one-cent sales tax surcharge, with most of the cash earmarked for public education.
But Shooter thinks the initiative — which may or may not qualify for the ballot because of a legal fight over paperwork — is a bad way to put more money into education. “I think it's a disaster,'' he said, saying there is no real oversight of how the cash would be used.