State must boost its investment in education
Associated Press
Jan. 11, 2008

Our view: Report that ranks Arizona next to last in per-pupil spending reflects the Legislature's lack of foresight

Tucson, Arizona | Published:


Another year has passed and once again Arizona schools, students and teachers have wound up at the bottom of a major study evaluating educational performance in the United States.

Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said he's not surprised by Arizona's embarrassingly low ranking in the 2008 Quality Counts report released this week by the publication Education Week.

"It validates that we are below average when it comes to school finances," he told Arizona Daily Star reporter George B. Sánchez.

It was the same with state schools superintendent Tom Horne, who told Sánchez, "Where we do poorly is financing, and that's really no news."

The truth is we're not surprised either.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has repeatedly demonstrated that it is far more concerned about maintaining the deception of low property tax rates than it is in funding education at any level. That point was reinforced Wednesday when more than 20 GOP legislators headed by House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, and Senate Finance Chairman Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, gathered to push for the permanent repeal of a state equalization rate — a tax — which was suspended in 2006, but will return next year unless the Legislature takes action.

The $250 million collected by the tax would normally be distributed to Arizona counties for distribution to local schools. The Legislature made that money up from the general fund this year, and no one has proposed changing that in the future, even if the tax is repealed, according to Barrett Marson, director of communications for the Republican members of the Arizona House of Representatives.

But with the potential for a $1 billion deficit looming in the state, we believe the temptation to redirect those funds away from education will only increase as the budget crisis deepens.

Meanwhile, Arizona's public school system ranked 44th in achievment, 46th in terms of preparing students for a chance of success in school, and not surprisingly, 49th when it comes to per-pupil spending — the most basic measure of the value we place on our children's education — a depth surpassed only by Utah

While the rest of the country spent $8,973 per student per year on average, Arizona spent an average of $6,232. Ironically Arizona was ranked eighth in the nation when it comes to imposing standards and imposing methodology for assessment and accountability in the schools.

And if pay is an indication, Arizona's teacher's don't get much respect either. They earned an average $39,957 a year last year compared with the national average $45,000, said Chris Swanson of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center Inc., which conducted the research for Education Week.

No, we're not surprised by Arizona's poor showing in the Quality Counts survey, but we are outraged — and we believe you should be, too.

After all it's your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces being shortchanged so that politicians can point to short-term property-tax cuts that amount to about $100 on a $250,000 home. That tax cut will buy a meal for two at a good restaurant. The savings to homeowners from such a tax cut will likely be eaten up by rising home valuations anyway.

At a time when Arizona's population is booming, when the competition for jobs and attracting jobs and the businesses that create jobs has become so intense, it's time the Arizona Legislature recognized that educating our young people, and preparing them for the jobs of the future, is the best investment the state can make.