School funding survey has Arizona next to last
Jan. 6, 2005
How we did
● In addition to per-pupil spending, Education Week's Quality Counts survey also grades states in other categories. Arizona received the same grades in the 2005 study as last year.
● Standards and accountability: B
● Efforts to improve teacher quality: D-
● School climate: C+
● Resource equity: C
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen
Arizona again ranks 50th out of all the states and Washington, D.C., in how much it spends on its students' education, according to the national "Quality Counts" survey.
Arizona spends $6,010 per student, based on 2001-02 data and adjusted for regional cost differences, according to the analysis done by the newspaper Education Week. Only Utah spent less, at $5,132.
The District of Columbia spent the most per pupil at $11,269, followed by New Jersey and New York, each of which spent more than $10,000 on each student.
The national average, according to the study, is $7,734 per student. The study uses figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Education.
Arizona is perennially near the bottom of national education funding lists, including a National Education Association study released in December that also pegged Arizona as 50th out of 51.
Tucson Unified Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said Arizona's low level of education spending conflicts with increasingly high expectations of students and schools, which are now publicly rated by the state.
"We're terribly underfunded for what's expected of us," Pfeuffer said. "At some point, the people in the state Legislature are going to have to realize if they want the quality of education they're pressing for, they're going to have to increase the funding.
"If we're expected to be the Lake Wobegon of the West, where everybody is above average, we need at least 23 percent more funding - we have to be at least average."
The effects of Arizona's low education funding show in little ways that add up, educators say.
For example, at TUSD's Robins Elementary School, three fourth-grade classes share one set of social studies textbooks, while high school students sometimes are not able to take textbooks home to study because there is just one class set.
Robins third-grade teacher Erica Quintana spent part of her winter break buying and cutting craft foam into inch-and-a-half-long strips to make 25 individual kits illustrate fractions, so her students can understand firsthand what a whole, half, quarter, third, and sixth look and feel like.
Research shows that the most effective teaching is tailored to each student's level, which means teachers could have five reading groups in one class of 29 students, said Robins' Principal Maggie Shafer.
One-size-fits-all style lecturing with a teacher in the front of the class and all students using the same books and materials may be one of the more cost-effective ways to run a school, but it doesn't pay off in student achievement, she said.
Quintana also makes books of dramatic plays for her students to use in class. Students at the West Side school practice the parts and perform a dramatic reading in front of the class, without costumes or props, an exercise Quintana said helps them with reading basics like fluency and expression.
"This is a different way of getting them to read and making it interesting," she said. "They love it, they absolutely love it."
Robins doesn't have the money to purchase the books of plays, which cost $8 to $13 each, for each student, so Quintana buys one book for each reading level, photocopies them and puts the homemade books in plastic covers in the hope they'll last more than one school year.
"If I use just a regular reading series, I would have 25 books on the same level and I would get the third-grade level," Quintana said. "Sometimes that doesn't work - it's too easy for maybe six, too hard for maybe six and right for just the kids in the middle."
The 2005 Quality Counts raises the point that there is no accepted standard of how much a quality education actually costs, per student.
The study used to use the national average for per-pupil spending - $7,734 based on the 2001-02 figures used in the latest study - as a way to measure the adequacy of funding, but Education Week research-ers decided to not evaluate states using that method in this report.
Later this month, the private Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona will release its study on how much money it would take to double student achievement in Arizona, which would "get it to be adequate, to where Arizonans can be proud of their system," said President and CEO Carol Peck.
The low level of current funding gives Arizona a chance to spend its money more wisely and build a better system with more bang for the buck, Peck said.
"Some states above the national average have invested in some things that aren't proven to be the most significant in raising student achievement," she said. "Once you've invested in something, it's difficult to pull back and invest in something else because of the politics involved - that's why Arizona can take advantage of this opportunity."
● Contact Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at