GOP education policies in Arizona are a failure


Earlier this week, the Arizona Republic reported that Arizona’s classroom spending at its lowest since 2001:

education_appleDistricts last school year spent the lowest percentage of their operating dollars on classroom instruction since at least 2001, when the state began monitoring the figure, according to a state report released Tuesday.

Classroom spending is a popularly cited funding figure that includes a school’s expenditures for salaries and benefits for teachers and instructional aides as well as classroom supplies.

The report said the low spending percentages have contributed to a lower state teacher salary average and larger classroom sizes.

Some of the key findings of the annual report released by the Arizona Office of the Auditor General:

  • The state’s school districts spent 53.6 percent of its maintenance and operations dollars on classroom instruction. The national average is 60.8 percent.
  • More than 40 percent of Arizona school districts spent less than 50 percent of their operating dollars in the classroom.
  • Had Arizona kept classroom spending at the same rate it did in 2001, when the reports were first commissioned, it would have spent $402 million more on classroom instruction in fiscal 2015.

“That percentage has decreased in both in years where overall spending decreased and overall spending increased,” said Vicki Hanson, division of school audits manager for the Office of the Auditor General.

“And that matters because it means $400 million not going into classrooms.”

Tuesday’s report said Arizona school districts “spent less than national averages in nearly all operational areas.” Arizona districts spent less on administration — $780 per student compared with $1,173 nationally. The state also spent less on classroom spending — $4,105 per student compared with $6,543 nationally.

Arizona’s steady spending decline deviated from the national trend.

The national classroom spending average has fallen only 0.7 percent since 2001. Arizona classroom spending has dropped by more than 5 percentage points from a peak of 58.6 percent in 2004 to 53.6 percent last school year.

“Arizona schools are doing good work with very little support from the state,” said Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association.

For further analysis of these numbers, see David Safier at The Tucson Weekly’s The Range blog. A Look at Arizona’s Classroom Spending Numbers.

The Arizona Republic lambasted our lawless Tea-Publican legislature’s failed education policies in a brutal editorial this week. Our View: Education needs don’t match lawmaker wants:

When it comes to K-12 education, the Arizona Legislature either suffers from a lack of understanding of demographic realities or an utter disregard for the dangers of further widening a dangerous achievement gap.

The majority of Arizona’s K-12 students belong to groups that are struggling to succeed in school.

They are the poor, Latinos, Native Americans and Blacks.

They are not inherently less capable or less intelligent. But they are failing at higher numbers than other students.

It is a matter of existential importance to Arizona turn that around. The success – or failure — of these students will define our state.

Yet Arizona is engaged in efforts likely to deepen inequities.

Consider a few facts:

  • Arizona’s child poverty rate is above the national average. The Arizona Department of Education says  48 percent of Arizona’s K-12 students in 2014 were eligible for free or reduced lunches, a common definition of poverty.
  • 46 percent of students of color in Arizona were in schools with a high-poverty rate in 2014, according to the National Equity Atlas, a project of the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. Only 9.6 percent of White students attended high-poverty schools.
  • Arizona has a majority-minority school population. Only 40 percent of students classified as White in 2014, according to the ADE.
  • Latino students are increasing in sheer numbers and percentage, accounting for 44 percent of K-12 students in 2014, according to ADE. That increase is attributable to children born in the United States, not immigration, according to the Pew Research Center.
  • The ADE reports that about 6 percent of Arizona students were not proficient in English. These English Language Learners are, by law, taken out of the classroom for special English instruction several hours a day, which means they fall behind in core subjects like math and science, says Joe Garcia of Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
  • On the 2015 AzMERIT test, economically disadvantaged students, as well as Latino, Black and Native American students did significantly worse than their peers. When it came to students who were not proficient in English, only 2 percent passed the language arts portion of the test and 6 percent passed math.

These facts call for a concerted effort to reach children that Arizona knows need help.

Instead, Arizona’s GOP majority Legislature is pushing an expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, a voucher program that takes money out of public schools to pay for private or church school tuition.

Touted as a way to increase school choice and help low-income students, the current program is most used by students in wealthy districts, reporting by The Republic found.

Arizona’s quest for school choice has resulted in a large number of charter schools. The unintended consequence: charters serve disproportionately fewer Latino students, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.

Education tax credits, also designed to increase school choice, also fail to deliver for those who most need help. Tax credit money designated for private schools disproportionately benefits well-off families, according to another Republic investigation.

Public school tax credits also tend to go to wealthier schools, where parents can afford the donations.

Now lawmakers are considering what could be a significant blow to efforts to raise the achievement level of Arizona’s poorest and most disadvantaged students.

There is legislative push to end desegregation funding that allows some districts to focus on improved learning opportunities for students facing challenges. It is being done in the name of fairness, because not all schools benefit from being able to levy property taxes to remedy identified problems with how minority students were treated.

The system may be flawed. But denying funds that schools use to address the needs of Latino, Black and Native American students makes little sense.

It makes more sense to find ways to increase funding for all schools – especially those with greatest needs.

Arizona’s leaders need to look at the demographics in our schools and find ways to reduce – not increase – achievement inequities in our schools.


The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For the love of God, people, stop electing these lawless Tea-Publicans to office who are committed to the destruction of public education and to privatizing education, often for their own personal  profit. Stop the insanity!


  1. I won’t argue with you that standards can be a bad thing, every kid is different.

    But Common Core was started primary by Republican governors. You make it sound like it’s an Obama thing. You do this because you know some folks don’t like Obama, and it’s a shortcut to get them on your side.

    Misleading statements like these are spread through the GOTeaP using Human Centipede Technology, first feeding the “team” a steady diet of fear and hate, and then associating things you don’t like with things you should fear and hate.

    And once this aromatic gruel of truthiness is in the system, it takes forever to work its way out.

    So, sadly, while I agree with you on standards, your neglect to mention the defunding of education in AZ, and your own RoboCalling in support of sending my tax money to Wall Street via charter schools, exposes your true agenda.

    You pick cherries.

    • Be real. The Obama administration completely took ownership of the Common Core standards when they attached a chance to share in $4.4 billion to the adoption of the standards. That $4.4 billion rammed the standards through with only seven states not adopting them.

      My point is that all the things done by the Obama administration have now come home to roost with test scores down for the first time 25 years.

      The one attribute necessary for leadership is profound knowledge of your subject, predicting that if you do a and b then c will result. The national drop in test scores was predictable, the increase in Arizona scores was predictable.

      We went in a different direction and did things in a substantially different way and were substantially less poisoned by the Obama administration policies.

  2. If people in Arizona so “smart”,then why on the daily local TV ‘News’ I see those ‘Smart’ Pick-Up/SUV Drivers all smashed up DAILY on city streets and freeways,including yesterday on 101 Freeway in Tempe that smashed into TWO DPS Vechicles?????

    Where’s my legislation to PERMANTLY ban those polluting Pick-Ups and SUVs?????

  3. Being number one in cost of education and last in efficiency is not an achievement. Let us talk about education accountability one more time. From the 2015 and 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress:

    The math academic gains for Arizona Black eight graders ranked number one in the nation which moved Arizona Black students to number one in the nation in math achievement.

    The reading academic gains for Black eight graders ranked 17th which resulted in Arizona eighth grade Blacks ranking 14th in reading scores.

    The math academic gains for Arizona Hispanics eight graders ranked 5th in the nation resulting in a ranking of 11th for math scores.

    The reading gains for Hispanics ranked 14th for a ranking of 29th in reading scores.

    The math gains for Arizona whites ranked 1st in the nation for a ranking of 6th in math scores. Not only did we rank first but our gains were three times as large as the number two state, the largest gap between any two states in the nation.

    The reading gains for whites ranked 3rd in the nation for a ranking of 7th in the nation in achievement scores.

    When you weight this all out, Arizona ranked 6th in gains and 13th in achievement. The cost effectiveness of this is quite possibly first as you point out.

    Now, let’s turn our intellectual accountability and point it at the Obama administration.

    From 2011 to 2015, math scores went down in the nation for the first time in 25 years (thank you Race to the Top, thank you Common Core). Steady progress came to a halt. Reading scores were flat, no improvement. The percentage of parents rating their child’s school excellent tumbled from 36% to 24% (PDK/Gallup poll) tumbling from the highest number in the 47 years of the PDK poll to within a point of the lowest number.

    It was a tidal wave, a tsunami, of intellectual sewage that came roaring out of the Obama administration education apparatus. Performance pay, standards for students, standards for teachers… there wasn’t a single policy area that they didn’t botch in both design and implementation.

    • I didn’t know Common Core was an Obama administration program!

      What else happened between 2011 and 2015? The rise of the TeaParty following the 2010 elections? The decimation of education funding in Arizona because clowns like you want to send my tax money to Wall Street?

      Cherry pick facts much, Falcon9?

      • Standards for Children was the center piece of Race to the Top. Not only was it one of seven elements of Race to the Top, but it was enmeshed in every single one of the other six elements. No Common Core, no hundreds of millions of dollars for your state.

        Standards for Children are unbelievably toxic for education and unbelievably politically popular.

        We have more than 15 million students at grade three and above who have to use their fingers to add 8 plus 7. Standards for children force teachers to pretend to teach these students fractions, decimals, algebra while ignoring their real needs. Thirty percent of our eighth graders take and pass algebra but only 1% can do the simplest of algebra word problems and less than 9% can do the simplest of algebraic manipulation that would be regarded as prealgebra.

        Great teachers who are teaching at risk students get slapped around by standards because these students are at least 100 points below standard and great teachers can only move students 30 to 40 points a year.

        Great students get damaged by standards because they are above the standard on day one and standards result in the education system not giving them the support they need to move ahead at the pace they are capable of.

        The point of my statistics was to point out that the Arizona did relatively very well while the nation tanked. We ranked at very close to the top in academic gains proving that money doesn’t count for much while the nation suffered from the worst results in decades.

        As for cherry picking, I chose to compare 2011 to 2015 because I wanted to know how well Arizona did under my watch. But it also is a good measure of Obama because his policies didn’t get a grip until 2011, the year race to the top funds flowed for the first time. 2010 would be a better base year for both comparisons but no NAEP data exists for 2010, so 2011 has to do.

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