Deconstructing AZ Republican education talking points

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.

0 responses to “Deconstructing AZ Republican education talking points

  1. Sheapenny:

    You’ll be happy to know that your a big part of your plan is already in existence right in your own backyard.

    In our public school district…
    …the buses are already outsourced to a private contractor (Durham).
    …the school lunches are handled by a private contractor (Sodexho).
    …Parents pay for school supplies – from pencils and paper to boxes of tissue and cleaning wipes for the classroom. They also pay for field trips and fundraise for books, computers, etc.
    …teacher AND administrative pay IS approved by the voter-elected Governing Board.


    Despite these allocations, we are STILL continuously filing away at our “excelling” academic programs and school resources due to the lack of adequate public school funding in this state.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC)2008 “Report Card on American Education” found that Arizona’s public school funding has been on the decline. They note that we spent $6,309 per student in 1986-1987…in 2006 we spent $6,248.

    That’s a decline of $61 per student (in real dollars) from 20 years ago.

    Javan Mesnard, Senator Al Melvin or anyone else who attempts to “spin” this fiscal situation should be ashamed of themselves. It is irresponsible to twist numbers in an attempt to deceive and confuse the public. Worse, it seems that they are attempting to undermine the facts in order to further their own agenda – and they are doing so at the expense of the 93% of young Arizona citizens who attend public K-12 schools.

    It’s self-centered, nasty politics instead of doing what is right by our state.

  2. It is easy,
    Number of Republicans in Arizona Government asking whether or not they can legally get rid of Kindergarten entirely: at least one
    Number of Democrats doing the same thing: zero
    BONUS QUESTION: What does John McCain call it when you fund stuff for children?
    ANSWER: “Generational theft”

  3. Sounds like the Iraq War privitization, sheapenny. We all know that worked well.

    Now on to those pesky AZ K-12 rankings. I received that info sheet from Al Melvin. I’m not sure he could analyze the data, but he and his buddies are passing out these numbers, knowing that most people have no understanding of education funding.
    I refer readers here again to the Federal Education Budget Project:

    Here AZ is ranked 48th with $6036 in per pupil spending, the number used by most literate people.

    Our republican friends would have us believe that funding at the ridiculously low 49th out of 50th level, is related to the ranking of 27 out of 50 on the SAT and 21st on the ACT. Forget that the SAT and ACT are taken only by students going to college, an elite sub-group of all students. That’s like comparing the quintessential apples and oranges.

    There are lots of figures in the Republican “list of facts,” but you’d be hard pressed to find a relationship between any of them and the amount spent per pupil.

  4. If I were going to propose a “Change” in the way schools are funded and run here is what I would do.

    Continue the election of school boards to oversee budgets BUT with a new approach; school buildings would be run by private contractors.

    The School Buses would be under another private contractor;

    The School Lunches would be another private contractor all subject to the lowest bid.

    Books and supplies again private contractor or voucher to buy the supplies on your own.

    The teachers pay would be negotiated by school boards with parental imput per teacher or group of teachers in the same field.
    (in other words a physical Education teacher would be on a different pay scale than a Math teacher Etc;)

    returning accountability to the school board and away from the State and Federal Government is putting The People back in control!