You’ve heard the mantra, especially from newspaper editorials around Arizona, accusing the Legislature of "disgraceful, seemingly willful abandonment of our public schools." (See Payson Schools facing Tough Competition.) Arizona’s news editors don’t want you to know the "rest of the story," if it doesn’t fit their Leftist world view. What are the facts?
The Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA) has put together an 8-page document titled Arizona K-12 School Finance Statistics: Providing Context to a Complex Measurement, that provides factual information relating to the reasons and fallacies surrounding the commonly argued narrative that Arizona doesn’t fund K-12 education adequately.
Arizona has increased K-12 spending by 172.5% since 1992, ranking among the top 10 states that increased dollars to its entire K-12 education system. Arizona has ranked #3 in the country in population growth since 1992. Maricopa County’s population grew more in total persons than any other county in America during the 2000s!
So, why doesn’t all this growth translate into more available money? Why is Arizona #48 in per pupil spending? One factor is that Arizona is among the top 10 states in percentage of population under the age of 18. Since 1992, it has ranked #2 in student growth. Those folks don’t pay taxes. Also, Arizona ranks #13 in percentage of residents 64 and older (a group that requires more state resources). Arizona’s tax base falls on the shoulders of the 18-64 age group. Arizona is #49 in percentage of residents in this taxpayer category. This means that Arizona is virtually at the bottom in its ability to support one of the largest student populations in the country. Arizona isn’t necessarily a "wealthy" state, either. It ranks #46 in income per student. In contrast, the states that have the highest ranking in per pupil spending have low percentages of youths and higher percentages of working age adults.
What’s interesting is that, even if Arizona raised personal income taxes by 50%, added a cent to the statewide sales tax and directed all revenues to K-12, it still wouldn’t crack the top 30 of per pupil spenders. This gives the "we try harder" ranking new meaning. Arizona ranks #20 in that category.
The good news is that Arizona’s low ranking is not necessarily causal to education outcomes. Arizona ranks #28 in indexed average teacher pay (125.67%). Not high, but certainly not last. Teachers are a huge factor in education outcomes.
Click on the title K-12 School Finance Statistics to view the full report.