Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is starving school districts, reducing classroom spending

Too few people read newspapers, and too many who do read only the headline caption to an article. Copy editors write the headlines, and too often the headlines are misleading and do not accurately reflect the content of the reporting.

For example, our sad small town newspaper the Arizona Daily Star ran the headline “Arizona spends less in classrooms” in its print edition, and “Arizona spending in classrooms declines year over year” in its online version for this Howard Fischer report. The Arizona Capitol Times similarly ran the headline “K-12 classroom spending reaches all-time low” for Fischer’s report.

So kudos to the copy editor of the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff for a headline that accurately reflects Howard Fischer’s reporting, Amid cuts in state capital funds, classroom spending falls:

Arizona’s mainstream public schools overall spent less of the money they received last year in the classroom than in any of the 16 years the state has been keeping track.

The trend tracks a cumulative $2 billion cut in state capital funding since 2009, forcing many school districts to shift dollars from teacher salaries and instruction into air conditioner and boiler repairs.

And state funding per pupil, when adjusted for inflation, has fallen from $8,794 in 2008 to $7,746 now.

But an 8 percent boost in state funding under Prop. 123 that will show up in next year’s report will likely move the needle on classroom spending, said state school officials.

The new report Wednesday from the Auditor General’s Office found that just 53.5 cents out of every dollar spent to educate Arizona youngsters in 2015 went for instruction. That includes everything from teachers, aides and even coaches to supplies like pencils and papers and some activities like band or choir.

Charter schools were not included in this study, and there are no comparable tracking studies just of charters, although one study found that administrative costs per student averaged twice that of mainstream publics.

Auditor General Debra Davenport said had districts directed resources into the classroom last year at the rate they did in 2001, the first time her agency did this report, an additional $422 million would have been spent in the classroom. With close to one million students in traditional public schools, that translates out to an extra $422 per student.

And she said the decrease since 2004 represents more than $2.4 billion not being spent in the classroom during the 12-year period.

Aside from being at the lowest point since the agency started looking at the issue in 2001, it also is 7.3 cents below the national average.

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said the decline should come as no surprise.

He said last budget year the state cut $114 million from one of the state aid formulas. And Essigs estimated that schools have lost out on $2 billion in capital funding since 2009.

What that means, Essigs said, is schools have had to use a larger percentage of the dollars they have fixing the things that the state should have paid to replace, like an air conditioning system or a new roof.

“They’re repairing buses they shouldn’t be repairing,” he said. “They ought to be replacing them.”

Ditto, Essigs said, with patching the roof. But the money to replace it isn’t there.

“Just like in your house: If you don’t have money to buy a new car, you have to keep fixing up your car,” he explained. “It may not be the most efficient thing to do but you don’t have a choice.”

This is where Howard Fischer should have included a paragraph or two about the threatened lawsuit against our lawless Tea-Publican legislature for its failure to comply with Roosevelt Elem. School Dist. No. 66  v. Bishop (No. CV-93-0168 1994), by unconstitutionally underfunded building maintenance and soft capital for school districts, which could force the state restore hundreds of millions of dollars of budget cuts made in recent years.

I posted about this threatened lawsuit in Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature faces another lawsuit for its failure to fund public education. School districts are not shortchanging classroom instruction spending, our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is by unlawfully starving school districts of building maintenance and soft capital, as well as classroom instruction spending. Let’s be clear about who is actually responsible for this failure to adequately fund public education.

This leaves only a couple of areas to cut.

One is administrative, everything from the salaries of superintendents and principals to clerical staff who handle accounting, payroll and purchasing. But Davenport said mainstream Arizona public schools, as a whole, were slightly more efficient than the national average, spending just 10.4 percent of their dollars on administration versus 10.9 percent nationally.

Arizona schools do spend much more on student support than the national average, 8.2 percent of their budgets versus 5.6 percent. That covers counselors, social workers, speech pathologists and nurses.

But Davenport said that difference may be related to the state’s relatively high poverty rate.

In the 2015 budget year — the most recent data available with national comparisons — 23 percent of Arizona’s school-age children lived at or below the poverty level, versus 19 percent nationally.

What that largely leaves schools to adjust, Essigs said, is classroom spending. The net effect, according to Davenport, has been lower teacher salaries and larger class sizes.

Davenport said that between 2004 and 2016, the average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, decreased 9 percent. And that’s despite the average number of years of experience staying the same.

And just between 2011 and 2016, she said, statewide average teacher pay dropped from $49,185 to $46,384 after inflation.

“During the same five-year period, the statewide average students per teacher increased from 18.1 to 18.6,” the report says.

The report comes as Gov. Doug Ducey has proposed putting an additional $114 million into state aid to schools next year above and beyond the normal inflation adjustments.

But less than $14 million of that is for teacher salaries, computing out to just an 0.4 percent raise. Ducey said, though, he is committed to five years of similar increases.

Governor Ducey’s budget provides only a small increase in what school districts are owed for classroom spending in an attempt to comply with the settlement of the inflation adjustment funding lawsuit that led to Prop. 123.  Ducey’s budget is a complete joke when it comes to addressing years of unlawfully starving school districts of building maintenance and soft capital funding.

Arizona Tea-Publican legislators and governors have been starving public education for years out of slavish devotion to their First Commandment, “Thou shalt never raise taxes” for any reason, including complying with lawful court orders.

 

4 Responses to Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature is starving school districts, reducing classroom spending

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    It’s actually the Tea Party jobs program.

    What the AZGOTeaP is doing is intentionally destroying public schools, leaving thousands of Arizona children to grow up unqualified for good paying jobs.

    Low taxes have never been shown to attract businesses, but low wages are powerful, powerful magnets for companies. That’s why they send so many jobs to third world countries.

    Eventually we’ll have a workforce so unqualified that business will flock here for the cheap labor!

    Make sense? Sure it does! It’s just good Tea Party economics!

    Morning in (third world) America!

  2. Article XI, Section 6 of the Arizona State Constitution requires that the Legislature provide a system of higher education to its citizens which is “as nearly free as possible”.

    I’m curious if current resident tuition rates of $5,900 per semester in tuition and mandatory fees to attend the University of Arizona truly is ‘as nearly free as possible’. I am curious if resident students should consider taking the legislature to court to demand that they provide requisite funding to fulfill their constitutional obligations. I would sign on as a plaintiff and donate to the legal fund for the case if enough students are willing to file a suit against the legislature.

  3. We’re giving away $4 billion/year in corporate tax cuts, another $400 million/year in tax credits and who knows how much in unnecessary lawsuits. We have the money; we’re throwing it away.

    Big corporations now want to “convert” the $1 billion in tax credits they have “banked”– so they can spend it. I got an idea. Let’s convert those $1 billion in stored credits into school funding. Letting our public education system and its infrastructure crumble is bad for our state’s future.

    • Unfortunately, ever since the 1980’s, MBA programs have taught their students to prioritize wealth extraction over wealth creation. It’s not hard to see why the same mindset is now extending to our captured government officials as well.