by David Safier
Arizona Republican legislators need to convince us things aren't as bad in our funding of Arizona K-12 public schools as we think know they are. It's tough to argue for more cuts if everyone is convinced the schools are underfunded already.
Riding to the rescue is Javan Mesnard, the Senate Republican Staff Policy Advisor. He put out a one page list of facts, figures and talking points that say, in essence, "Pay no attention to that '49th in spending per student' nonsense everyone talks about all the time. Here are lots of other numbers to confuse you."
I haven't found any outright lies in Mesnard's facts and figures, just lots of purposeful deception. Lisa Hawkins and MaryLee Moulton of LEAN (Legislative Education Action Network) put together almost 20 pages dense with tables and footnotes deconstructing Mesnard's claims. I lean heavily on their work.
I'll focus on two of Mesnard's claims here (one really, after I brush the first one away). I'll write about more later.
Mesnard begins by using the Goldwater method to say we spend $9,700 per pupil, while everyone else in the country puts the Arizona per pupil number in the $6,500 range, which makes us 49th in the nation. Too much time has been spent here at BfA arguing that figure, so let me make a quick comment, then move on. If you "simply" divide every penny spent on salaries, transportation, building new schools, maintaining old schools and a slew of other categories by the number of students, you get their number. It sounds like the simplest answer, but it simply isn't the way any of the national organizations do it. You may know the term "Accam's Razor," which basically means, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The problem is, when you have an agenda, nothing is simple, so the Razor doesn't cut it here. In this case, I prefer H.L. Mencken's statement: "There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."
With that issue unsolved but out of the way, let's move onto my single favorite statistic on Mesnard's sheet: We are 26th in funding per classroom of students.
Twenty-sixth in funding? That's not bad at all! That means we're in the middle of the pack. What's all this 49th garbage?
Better take a close look at that stat. "Funding per classroom of students" means, the more students you have in a class, the more "funding" is spent in that classroom.
Here's the simple mathematical formula he uses: Spending per student times the number of students in the classroom equals "Funding per classroom of students."
Arizona is 50th in its pupil-teacher ratio. Only Utah has a higher ratio. (We're one of only four states whose pupil-teacher ratio has grown since the 1980s.) So, with more students in our classes, we spend more in each classroom than if we lowered class size.
Gosh and gollies, Mr. Mesnard, if we had fifty students in every class, maybe we'd be number one in "Funding per classroom of students"! Wouldn't that be neat?
More of Mesnard's facts and figures in another post.