Arizona is 50th in pupil spending
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 5, 2005
Pat Kossan

Stingy reputation confirmed

Arizona's reputation as a state that's stingy with money for classrooms was confirmed again in this year's Quality Counts 2005, an annual state-by-state education report.

The report ranked Arizona 50th in per-pupil spending, at $6,010 per student, well behind the national average of $7,734 and found fewer than 1 percent of students in districts that spend at or above the national average.

Despite the bottom ranking, the state spends 3.8 percent of its taxable resources to operate schools, which is equal to the national average. That means Arizona education gets an average slice of the budget pie, but the pie itself is smaller. John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, called it the downside of living in a low-tax state.

It's especially a handicap for a state with a large percentage of minority students learning English who often struggle to catch up to their peers in reading and writing skills, as well as tackling science and math and history.

"We simply don't have the resources available to us to fund the system adequately," Wright said. "It's a tall order and we're resource starved."

In a preview released earlier this week, Quality Counts 2005, published by Education Week, also gave Arizona a D- for its efforts to improve teacher quality.

Arizona has no way to ensure that its teacher-training programs turn out competent grads or that all prospective teachers are knowledgeable in the subjects they would teach before licensing them. Once in the classroom, the state provides no money to help teachers further their training. Since 1996, the Arizona Board of Education has required teachers to pass a "performance evaluation" after two to three years in the classroom and before getting a permanent license. The report pointed out that the nearly decade-old requirement has never been implemented.

"We have inherited some problems and we are working hard to correct them,"
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said.

Everyone from the Governor's Office down has been working toward improving teacher training. State officials spent 2004 working through many of Quality Counts' complaints about teachers. Several solutions are due to be approved by the state Arizona State Board of Education in 2005, including a new certification process for prospective teachers and a tougher evaluation of colleges and universities who are turning them out.

"Those are things that we need to be addressing and everyone knows it," said Paul Koehler of WestEd, a research and public policy agency. "This ought to be a reminder to policymakers that we should move aggressively on teacher quality issues."

It's not a coincidence that Arizona is at the bottom of the heap for teacher quality and operation spending.

"Critics argue that more money doesn't make any difference," Koehler said. "But more money spent in the right places does make a difference."