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Education funding drops, less of what remains is spent in classrooms

classroom-620The share of education tax dollars that actually wind up in Arizona classrooms slid again last year, to the lowest level in the 13 years the state has been monitoring.

New figures from the Auditor General’s Office show that less than 54 cents out of every education dollar was put into actual classroom spending. That’s 7.4 percentage points below the national average.

Auditor General Debra Davenport said that shows up largely in more students being packed into fewer classes.

Not only is the average class size in Arizona larger than the national average. Davenport said it’s actually increased in the last two years.

That also was reflected in that while the number of children attending Arizona public schools has dropped by 3 percent since 2009, the number of teachers dropped by 8.6 percent.

But Davenport said the ever-declining percentage of education dollars winding up in the classroom tells just half the story.

She said total education spending in 2013 was $7,485 per pupil. That’s $412 less per pupil than it was in 2009.

So when you start with a smaller number and then spend less of it in the classroom, that results in a double whammy, she said.

Put more simply, the current 53.8 percent figure on instructional costs translates into just $4,031 per student to cover things like salaries and benefits for teachers, aides and coaches. It also covers supplies such as pencils and paper, athletics, and activities like band or choir.
But if you add that multiplier effect — fewer dollars overall and a smaller percent going to classrooms — the actual cash making it into the classroom for instruction is nearly $450 less than just four years earlier.

Davenport said it’s not that things like superintendents, principals, business managers and clerical staff  are sucking up all the money. In fact, she said, Arizona schools overall spent less than the national average on administration.

What’s making up the difference, she said, are other non-instructional costs.

For example, she said, Arizona schools spent more than the national average on plant operations. Davenport said almost all of this is related to heating and cooling costs.

And she said even the state’s higher-than-average poverty rate has an effect, with 22 percent of Arizona’s school-age children living at or below the poverty level, two points higher than the rest of the country.

“Students living in poverty are more likely to use support services such as counselors, social workers and attendance services,” she wrote.

Davenport’s auditors also found that transportation costs also are increasing as a share of total school funding, reaching 4.9 percent of available operating dollars last year compared to 4.4 percent spent in the 2007-2008 school year.

“Clearly, we do need to get more money into the schools,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. Kavanagh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said that is happening, slowly, as the state recovers from the recession.

The trickier part, though, may be getting more of whatever dollars are available actually into the classroom.

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, Kavanagh’s Senate counterpart, said technology may help.

First, he said, the state could ensure that all classrooms are wired for high-speed Internet. That frees up local dollars to be used for education.

But Shooter said that Internet access also could help schools do more with less money. He figures that wired classrooms could allow a single teacher, perhaps even a university professor with a special expertise in a subject, to provide instruction to multiple classes.

On the other side of the equation, Kavanagh said one option might be a legislative mandate that at least 57 cents of every dollar spent on education be earmarked for instruction. He said the report shows that is possible.

“We have some districts that are able to get up to the 57 to 60 percent range without much difficulty,” he said. “We’ve got to do better than (the average) of 53.8 percent.”

And Kavanagh said meeting that goal should be easier if lawmakers do make more cash available.

He acknowledged, though, there may be reasons some districts cannot get to that number, perhaps because of unusual expenses like high transportation costs due to a sprawling rural area or particularly high costs to keep older buildings heated or chilled.

“A waiver from the (state school) superintendent might work, so long as the criteria for issuing the waiver is reasonably precise so there’s no abuse and highly transparent,” Kavanagh said.

Historic trends on classroom spending:

2001 57.70%
2002 58.20%
2003 58.60%
2004 58.60%
2005 58.40%
2006 58.30%
2007 57.90%
2008 57.30%
2009 56.90%
2010 55.90%
2011 54.70%
2012 54.20%
2013 53.80%

How districts spent their money:

Area 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Classroom instruction 53.80% 54.20% 54.70% 55.90% 56.90% 57.30% 57.90%
Plant operation and maintenance 12.30% 12.40% 12.40% 12.00% 11.60% 11.30% 11.30%
Administration 10.00% 8.90% 9.70% 9.50% 9.20% 9.20% 9.50%
Student support 7.70% 7.70% 7.70% 7.60% 7.50% 7.40% 7.30%
Instruction support 6.00% 5.90% 5.80% 5.70% 5.50% 5.40% 4.80%
Food service 5.30% 5.10% 5.00% 4.80% 4.80% 4.80% 4.70%
Transportation 4.90% 4.80% 4.70% 4.50% 4.30% 4.40% 4.30%

Selected districts:

School district Percent of funding spent in classroom
2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Ajo Unified 49.80% 50.30% 55.60% 60.20% 59.40% 56.90% 56.70% 55.40%
Altar Valley Elementary 44.70% 44.10% 41.70% 46.50% 47.60% 48.00% 46.50% 47.30%
Amphitheater Unified 54.00% 54.90% 56.30% 57.50% 58.50% 57.50% 56.80% 56.50%
Antelope Union 51.40% 47.70% 50.70% 51.10% 52.60% 53.40% 43.70% 52.30%
Apache Junction Unified 55.60% 54.60% 55.10% 55.00% 56.90% 54.50% 55.80% 54.50%
Beaver Creek Elementary 52.70% 51.30% 56.60% 57.80% 59.40% 62.00% 65.60% 60.70%
Bisbee Unified 48.90% 48.50% 47.90% 51.80% 47.40% 49.30% 49.70% 52.10%
Camp Verde Unified 55.90% 53.50% 53.40% 52.60% 55.70% 55.20% 55.40% 54.20%
Catalina Foothills Unif’d 52.20% 52.60% 53.10% 54.30% 55.00% 55.00% 57.90% 58.10%
Cave Creek Unified 53.90% 53.20% 54.90% 54.40% 55.60% 56.70% 55.50% 59.60%
Chandler Unified 60.60% 60.90% 60.60% 62.00% 62.40% 62.30% 63.20% 63.70%
Clarkdale?Jerome Elem.  56.60% 57.50% 57.00% 57.90% 60.00% 61.00% 59.10% 60.00%
Continental Elementary 58.60% 55.40% 58.20% 56.00% 62.80% 61.30% 56.20% 55.30%
Cottonwood?Oak Creek Elem  55.70% 50.60% 47.80% 52.80% 57.00% 55.80% 53.40% 53.50%
Crane Elementary 50.80% 51.10% 52.80% 53.50% 54.30% 56.00% 55.80% 56.50%
Deer Valley Unified 58.60% 58.90% 59.60% 60.60% 60.60% 61.50% 60.50% 61.20%
Douglas Unified 52.40% 52.30% 53.80% 53.20% 54.90% 58.20% 59.50% 58.80%
Flagstaff Unified 54.20% 54.80% 57.00% 56.10% 57.20% 56.90% 58.50% 55.20%
Flowing Wells Unified 52.30% 51.90% 53.20% 54.80% 58.40% 57.70% 59.00% 60.00%
Fountain Hills Unified 54.60% 54.30% 54.30% 52.60% 56.40% 57.10% 57.90% 57.10%
Ft. Huachuca Accom. 54.90% 56.50% 58.10% 58.10% 59.20% 58.80% 60.90% 59.70%
Gadsden Elementary 48.50% 48.20% 51.10% 50.60% 49.10% 51.40% 50.50% 50.20%
Gilbert Unified 60.70% 60.10% 59.90% 62.00% 62.70% 63.20% 63.00% 63.30%
Grand Canyon Unified 47.70% 50.00% 46.70% 48.80% 48.50% 45.90% 48.10% 49.20%
Higley Unified 55.90% 55.30% 54.20% 54.90% 55.00% 57.00% 57.70% 58.60%
Humboldt Unified 56.00% 56.00% 56.30% 59.10% 61.40% 60.10% 61.80% 59.20%
Kyrene Elementary 60.10% 60.20% 61.80% 61.00% 62.90% 63.30% 63.50% 64.00%
Lake Havasu Unified 55.60% 53.90% 56.50% 59.10% 59.50% 59.80% 61.20% 61.80%
Marana Unified 54.50% 54.20% 56.10% 56.70% 57.90% 57.30% 59.10% 58.70%
Maricopa Unified 47.40% 47.00% 49.60% 50.70% 52.30% 59.70% 55.20% 55.50%
Mesa Unified 56.30% 57.30% 57.60% 59.30% 59.80% 61.40% 62.10% 62.70%
Mingus Union 59.60% 58.00% 55.00% 55.10% 62.60% 58.50% 62.40% 61.30%
Naco Elementary 58.70% 58.80% 57.20% 59.90% 55.60% 63.10% 63.00% 61.00%
Nogales Unified 51.30% 51.50% 51.70% 52.10% 52.70% 54.30% 55.00% 56.10%
Oracle Elementary 49.10% 46.40% 48.20% 49.30% 49.90% 50.00% 50.20% 52.70%
Palominas Elementary 51.10% 50.30% 51.50% 53.80% 54.10% 55.90% 55.50% 55.60%
Paradise Valley Unified 57.10% 55.80% 58.80% 59.80% 60.60% 60.80% 62.40% 62.10%
Patagonia Elementary 46.40% 59.10% 54.80% 53.20% 55.60% 54.70% 55.00% 53.90%
Patagonia Union 46.40% 39.20% 40.10% 37.90% 39.10% 39.20% 42.20% 40.20%
Peoria Unified 56.00% 57.60% 57.20% 59.60% 60.50% 59.80% 59.60% 60.60%
Prescott Unified 54.80% 55.70% 58.30% 57.50% 61.60% 62.20% 62.30% 61.50%
Queen Creek Unified 51.20% 53.60% 56.30% 59.90% 59.70% 60.70% 60.00% 57.80%
Red Rock Elementary 58.10% 51.70% 49.10% 55.30% 48.40% 66.10% 54.30% 54.90%
Sahuarita Unified 53.20% 53.80% 57.70% 56.30% 57.70% 54.70% 54.90% 56.70%
Scottsdale Unified 57.90% 58.70% 57.70% 59.50% 57.70% 60.40% 61.30% 60.50%
Sedona?Oak Creek Jt. Unif  54.40% 53.40% 54.40% 53.20% 54.40% 55.10% 54.90% 54.60%
Sierra Vista Unified 53.80% 53.20% 53.60% 53.20% 54.40% 54.30% 55.50% 56.90%
Somerton Elementary 47.10% 46.60% 47.10% 49.70% 49.60% 47.90% 50.60% 50.50%
Sonoita Elementary 61.00% 57.90% 59.70% 64.70% 69.60% 65.70% 68.50% 66.70%
Sunnyside Unified 48.90% 50.40% 51.50% 52.30% 53.90% 55.20% 57.00% 56.70%
Tanque Verde Unified 59.10% 57.90% 57.50% 55.00% 60.80% 59.30% 56.70% 58.80%
Tempe Elementary 52.30% 52.70% 53.60% 54.20% 56.00% 55.30% 55.40% 55.50%
Tempe Union 53.50% 53.80% 56.40% 56.70% 56.80% 59.90% 59.70% 59.60%
Tombstone Unified 50.20% 47.30% 46.50% 47.50% 52.20% 47.20% 47.70% 50.90%
Tucson Unified 49.20% 50.60% 50.40% 53.90% 53.50% 53.40% 54.30% 54.90%
Vail Unified 56.00% 55.80% 57.60% 59.70% 59.90% 59.90% 59.30% 60.20%
Williams Unified 51.80% 52.30% 54.10% 50.40% 53.90% 56.50% 56.50% 57.50%
Yuma Elementary 50.50% 50.50% 50.10% 52.20% 54.00% 52.70% 51.90% 51.70%
Yuma Union 53.70% 51.70% 51.90% 52.30% 51.10% 51.20% 56.50% 53.50%

? Source: Auditor General’s Office

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