Thursday, January 06, 2005

Education Spending in Arizona - There is a discrepancy in views

Yesterday an article came out saying that Arizona ranks 50th in pupil spending.
Arizona is 50th in pupil spending 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.
Just the other day the Goldwater Institute said: Goldwater - New Survey Finds Public Schools Cost Twice as Much as Private Schools "...Meanwhile, district and charter schools in Arizona received an average of $7,816 per student from the state this year." Call me crazy but $1806 is more than a slight discrepancy. Is the Gold Water Institute skewing the numbers to the top end of spending? Is Quality Counts 2005 only paying attention to the bottom end of the spending? One or both are either wrong, they are not using the same data, or their not measuring the expenditures in the same way. I’d bet their not measuring the expenditures in the same way or their not using the same data. Back to this in a minute. Even as we look beyond this conflict, we still have the following issues from the first article:
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."
So on top of the funding issue, we have another issue. Unlike other states, we have a large population of students with special needs. My question is how do we compare to other states with similar populations of students with special needs? However, there’s more:
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."
On top of the funding issue and the special needs issue we have the Teacher Quality issue. To put this all together, we have the Goldwater Institute trying to prevent taxes from increasing, and we have Quality Counts saying that we are not spending enough per child. On top of that, they say we have problems with Special Needs Students and Teacher Quality. Simplified, we are either under or over funding our schools, which are producing poor quality teachers, who need to teach a population with Special Needs. Going back to the discussion at the beginning, we still don’t really know if we are adequately funding our schools. We need to learn what those states with similar demographics are and what they spend to have the best results. This is needed to come to a reasonable compromise on what the appropriate spending is. So the questions are, how much are we really spending on education? How does it compare to other states with similar percentages and classifications of special needs students? This is the big one, why aren’t we turning out better quality teachers. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it.” I believe that this is a fundamental truth; the question is whose condition will be improved and how much should it cost? Stay tuned Education is a hot topic right now and I’ll have more on it in the coming days.

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