next to bottom nationally in per-pupil spending, report says
By George B. Sánchez
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/219900
Arizona ranks worst in the nation when it comes to education funding, according to a new report.
Only Utah spends less per student, according to Quality Counts 2008, an annual education report by Education Week, a non-profit organization based on the East Coast. But when other economic variables are considered, the study concludes Arizona is worst in the nation.
The effects are clear, the report says, with Arizona ranked near the bottom for student chance of success, K-12 achievement, teacher pay and school finance. The state did place in the top 10 for education standards and accountability, though.
The results weren't surprising to local and state education leaders.
"The bottom line is there are no surprises," said Roger Pfeuffer, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District. "It validates that we are below average when it comes to school finances."
"Where we do poorly is financing, and that's really no news," said Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction.
Fewer than 5 percent of Arizona students are in school districts with annual per-pupil expenditures at or above the national average of $8,973. Nearly 50 percent of the nation's students receive at least that much funding per year. The average annual funding per student in Arizona is $6,232. Utah's per-pupil funding is $5,463.
The report also took into account state spending on education as a percent of taxable resources, district funding and local property wealth, and disparity in district- and student-spending across the state.
Arizona teacher wages fare poorly compared with the rest of the nation, too, according to the report. The median annual U.S. salary is $45,000, said Chris Swanson of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center Inc., which conducted the research for Education Week. Arizona teachers average about $39,957 a year, said Carole Vinograd Bausell, project director at Quality Counts.
"That's a real slip over the past few years," said John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, the union that represents Arizona teachers and classified employees. "Five years ago, we were in the top two-thirds for pay."
The only section of the report with a high score for Arizona was state standards and accountability.
"The standards and accountability is the area, in general, where all states did best," noted Vinograd Bausell. She said the high scores likely were due to the influence of the standards-based reform movement.
Arizona ranked eighth in the nation in that section.
"If we could get our resources toward the national average, then I feel we'd be among the top states in the country because of our emphasis on academic rigor in the classroom," Horne said.
Overall, Arizona was ranked on the bottom tier for K-12 student achievement. The report took into account fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores and proficiency on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test Horne has criticized for representing only a small portion of Arizona students. The state did show signs of closing the achievement gap when it came to fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.
Last year's report debuted the "chance for success index," which correlated education with personal achievement by measuring education and income from birth to post-secondary school life. This year's emphasis was on teaching and state efforts to attract, retain and support qualified teachers.
"High-quality teaching matters more to student achievement than anything else schools do," said Lynn Olson, also with the research center.
Based on skills necessary to teach, the report assembled a list of 16 occupations comparable to K-12 teaching. The list included architects, reporters, clergy, computer programmers and registered nurses.
States lack a system to attract, prepare, retain and allocate resources for teachers, Vinograd Bausell said.
For recent college graduates, the pay gap is great when it comes to teaching or entering a career in engineering, technology and business, Wright said.
A uniform starting pay that is somewhat competitive should be in place in Arizona, Wright said, adding that the longer the state takes to address teacher pay, the greater the gap grows between public teaching and the private sector.
The report offers further proof of the need to invest in education, Pfeuffer said.
"We are a growing state. We are an in-migration state, from other states. We have an economy that looks to be future- oriented. We have to have an educated populace, which includes the workforce and people who can make good decisions," he said. "We are not investing in our future."
● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at firstname.lastname@example.org