Monday, January 11, 2010

Op Ed: Arizona Excels at School Choice; Fails in School Investment

Arizona Excels at School Choice; Fails in School Investment

Arizona enters the new decade as the national leader in school choice. Arizona parents can choose to open-enroll their children in the public school that best meets their needs, choose among almost 500 charter schools or even receive a tax credit funded scholarship to offset some of the cost of private school. Arizona parents have more choice than parents in any other state.

Unfortunately, while Arizona legislators have given parents more control over their children’s education, they have failed to keep up with other states’ investment in education. Arizona ranks at the bottom in per pupil spending for public education and 90% of Arizona parents have chosen traditional public education and charter public schools.

Why is investment in traditional and charter public schools important? In order to have a strong economy Arizona needs an educated work force to attract industry to the state. If business cannot find workers qualified for the positions available they will not come to Arizona. Moreover, if educated workers are not available businesses will leave Arizona. Arizona citizens want smart government that will enact policies that will help create broad prosperity throughout the state and education is the cornerstone to building a stronger Arizona economy. Investing in public education is investing in the economic future of Arizona.

As the legislature convenes for the new session, Arizona faces serious financial issues. Arizonans should be watching for action in the legislature that reflects Arizona values and priorities. New tax-credit proposals that diminish the general fund in a time of record deficits should be labeled fiscally irresponsible. Investment in public education should be employed to fire-up the economic engine of Arizona and help grow us out of our fiscal Grand Canyon. Investment in public education has been the greatest economic driver in the history of the United States. Now is the time for Arizona to re-invest in public education!

MaryLee Moulton
Board Member, Arizona Education Network
e-mail MaryLee Moulton at

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rep. Steve Farley & Sen. Al Melvin Discuss Arizona Budget Crisis

Yesterday, Representative Steve Farley (LD 28) and Senator Al Melvin (LD 26) sat down with Bill Buckmaster for the Friday Roundtable to discuss the state's budget crisis. Click here to view video.

*It's worth noting that Senator Melvin once again references a per pupil expenditure AEN debunked in a previous post on our website and here on the blog.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Debunking Latest Education Spending Report, January 5, 2010

In another effort to undermine the value of public education, the libertarian/limited-government-through-litigation group The Goldwater Institute sent out another email with misleading, outdated and disingenuous information.  Their "pitch" is that Arizona is spending more for education, and getting less for it.
However, this dog won't hunt.  This is an old message that has been debunked repeatedly.   In 1979 Arizona was investing about 69% of the total general fund budget on K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.  Today about 57% of our state budget is devoted to our schools.  We are essentially paying LESS, and demanding MORE.
While Arizona’s overall spending on education has increased during that same time period, it has not kept up with the growth in our population.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) reported recently that Arizona actually spent more per K-12 student in 1986 than we did in 2006. This bears repeating:  Arizona actually spent $61 less per student than we did 20 years prior…and those latest figures were released before the most recent spending cuts.  The ALEC report also concurs with all of the other national education surveys that Arizona is ranked at the very bottom for educational investment among US states.
"How much is Arizona spending per student?"

The fact is that national surveys report that Arizona spends anywhere between $5,255 - $7,537 per student. However, special interest groups are claiming that we spend anywhere from $9,500 to “over $10,000” per student.  Notably ATRA, the fiscally conservative Arizona Tax Research Association, agrees that Arizona funding is $6,200* per student.
.....* ATRA Special Report, April 2009 “K-12 Education Funding – How Do We Compare


As a general rule, other states identify three expenditures for per student spending:
• Teacher Salary
• Maintenance and Operations (M&O) costs to run the school
• Costs for the items directly used by the students in the classroom
The per pupil funding dollar is derived by adding total dollars spent of the above three items and dividing by the actual number of students served.
"Reactionary groups claim Arizona is spending $9,700 per student.  How did they calculate that number?"
In short, it's a  numbers game.

They use all the income on the JLBC Report (1/27/09), including lunch money, after school sports, adult night programs, adjacent ways (sewer & road repairs as a result of city maintenance), and other non-revenue dollars and divide it by the number of students.
No other state counts this in their per student funding numbers. Reactionary groups use these numbers and include these things because they want to inflate this data in a period where Arizona is cutting education spending.  They are using the hard work of the JLBC to spin their message.
In taking a closer look at the 2000-2009 JLBC report, it is important to note that the 2009 figures are an estimate.  They do not include the cuts of $270M to K-12 Education or the elimination of $362M in New School Facilities (NSF) funding made during 2009.
These are the FACTS that you need to know:
•  Arizona spends less per student than almost any other state in the nation
•  National Education Association: 51st
•  U.S. Census Bureau: 49th
•  National Center for Education Statistics: 48th
•  Education Week: 50th
•  American Legislative exchange Council: 50th
•  Average reported difference between what Arizona spends per student and what the average US state invests = $3,068 per student

"Are these statistics acceptable for a 21st century classroom?"
Absolutely not.
For a full report on the above statistics, see Arizona K-12 EXAMINATION OF THE FACTS 2009, pdf.
US Population Statistics: U.S. Census Bureau, Cumulative Estimates of Population Change for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico and Region and State Rankings: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008,
State General Fund Expenditures: The Fiscal Survey of States, National Governor’s Association, June 2009,

Projected State Budget Deficits: Recession Continues to Batter State Budgets; State Responses Could Slow Recovery, Center on Budget Policy & Priorities, Table I,
Education Expenditures and State Rankings:  American Legislative Council,  The Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis, 2008
GDP by State:  Bureau of Economic Analysis, Economic Slowdown Widespread Among States in 2008, Table 1 Real GDP by State 2005-2008,
General Fund Spending as a Percent of Personal Income, Joint Legislative Budget Committee, 2009,

Arizona corporate and individual tax statistics: Joint Legislative Budget Committee, 2008

Monday, January 4, 2010

With fiscal house on fire, private-school tax credits are irresponsible

With fiscal house on fire, private-school tax credits are irresponsible
By MaryLee Moulton

As Rome burns, our state Legislature continues to fiddle away. Faced with a burgeoning budget hole and no solution in sight, the legislative leadership last week proposed a way to deepen — yes, deepen — our state debt.
It involves funneling even more state tax dollars to private schools and helping line the pockets of the middlemen who profit handily by skimming 10 percent of tax-credit dollars as they are diverted to private schools.
A House committee appointed by House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, allegedly to investigate abuses of the private school tax-credit system, instead last week released recommendations to expand rather than reform the program, which two separate newspaper investigations have found to be rife with abuse.
The newspapers found that the program, which was established to help pay poor kids' tuition at private and parochial schools, primarily benefits the wealthy, who receive a taxpayer-funded subsidy to pay for their children's elite and costly education. This comes at the expense of all other Arizonans, who are suffering job losses, closed state parks and woefully underfunded public and charter schools because of the state's budget crisis.
The private-school tax credit program has diverted $380 million from the general fund since its inception in 1997. This year alone — at a time when the state is talking about talking about issuing IOUs because it can't pay its bills — $55 million of your tax dollars will walk out the door with no benefit to average Arizonans.
Your state tax dollars will also continue enriching Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Mesa, the primary sponsor of legislation expanding private-school tax credits and the beneficiary of those tax dollars as head of the largest School Tuition Organization. Legislators have already refused to declare that Yarbrough has a blatant conflict of interest that should be illegal; instead of cracking down on his industry, the House panel voted to help him expand it.
Incredibly, rather than voting to restrict this program to only the financially needy, the House panel voted to recommend increasing the amount that taxpayers can direct to private schools from $500 to $750 for an individual and $1,000 to $1,500 for a couple.
How can any responsible legislator faced with a budget deficit of more than $3 billion recommend increasing a tax credit that is not limited by financial need? In the recent special session, the Legislature cut an additional $144 million to public schools mid-year. This is on top of the $133 million in cuts in January 2009. More cuts are on the way. Keep in mind that Arizona is already 50th in the nation in per-pupil spending on K-12 education.
Every Arizonan should contact their state legislator and demand they follow the fiscally responsible path. Insist that any scholarship offered through tax credits is means tested. Tell them to introduce legislation to reduce the 10 percent taken off the top to a more reasonable 3 to 5 percent. Finally, tell them they will be held accountable if they expand special interest tax breaks when Arizona has a $3 billion deficit.
Arizonans must take action to force our legislators to be fiscally responsible.

MaryLee Moulton is a co-founder of the Arizona Education Network. E-mail MaryLee Moulton at