The Arizona Auditor General released its Arizona School District Spending Report for Fiscal Year 2014 on Friday. According to the report, “Between fiscal years 2001 and 2014, Arizona’s total operational spending per pupil increased 41 percent,” but Arizona districts spent the lowest percentage in classrooms since Fiscal Year 2001.
The Auditor General found that despite the large increase, Arizona school districts still spent approximately $3,000 less per pupil than the 2012 national average.
The Auditor General concluded:
Between fiscal years 2001 and 2014, Arizona’s total operational spending per pupil increased 41 percent. Despite this increase, per pupil spending in Arizona continued to trail the national average both in total and in the classroom. In fiscal year 2014, for the second consecutive year, Arizona districts spent 53.8 percent of available operating dollars on instruction — the lowest percentage since we began monitoring this in fiscal year 2001. The state-wide percentage decreased every year between fiscal years 2004 and 2013 before remaining flat in fiscal year 2014. At the same time, the percentages spent on administration, plant operations, food service, transportation, student support, and instruction support have all increased.
Although factors outside a district’s control—such as district size, type, and location — can affect its efficiency, some districts operate efficiently and have lower costs despite these factors, while others do not. Finally, analysis of six measures found 57 of 208 districts had a moderate to high financial stress level.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas expressed her appreciation for the work of Arizona’s public charter and traditional public schools after the release of the report.
“It is time to stop looking at percentages when we evaluate our schools and their spending,” said Superintendent Douglas. “Schools spend dollars, not percentages. I find it inspiring that our schools have continued to strive for excellence given the restraints placed upon them by limited budgets. The dollar-to-dollar comparisons of Arizona expenditures to national averages are truly sobering when we consider how much less our schools have to work with. Our schools are doing a miraculous job in comparison.”
The Superintendent also pointed out that the Arizona numbers are based on 2014, while the most current numbers to compare nationally are from 2012. “If you take into account the increases made by other states during the last two years, there is an even more stark contrast. For instance, Arizona is a large state so transportation costs per pupil are much higher than in Rhode Island, Massachusetts or other more compact regions.”
However, the cost of living is far lower in Arizona than in Rhode Island, or Massachusetts. A comparison of those living in Providence, Rhode Island or Boston, Massachusetts with those living in Phoenix, Arizona shows that a person living in Arizona who makes $50,000 would compare to a person in Rhode Island making $63,660 and $71,584 in Massachusetts.
Governor Ducey issued a statement: “This report points to Arizona’s urgent need to start putting classrooms first and direct more dollars where the learning happens. We cannot be content with the status quo when we continue to spend significantly less than the national average in the classroom. We owe it to Arizona students and teachers to ensure more money gets to our classrooms so we can be successful in the mission at-hand – improving education results for all Arizona students.”