Ariz school funding gap assailed
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 30, 2003
Pat Kossan

Study: Wealthy kids get much more

National education researchers scolded Arizona for widening the funding gap between its rich and poor students at a time when most states are closing the divide.

Arizona spends nearly $1,000 less per child to educate its poor students than it spends on wealthier students, giving it the sixth-highest such gap in the nation, according to research released Wednesday by the Education Trust.

The study, based on data from 1997 through 2001, chastised Arizona for "recklessly allowing the funding gap to widen, bucking the long-term national trend."

Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, said his calculations show just the opposite when it comes to money spent on programs directly involving student learning. He called the study "irrelevant."

"What is important is what is spent on teachers and programs, not what district happens to be growing and needs new schools," Horne said.

Education Trust senior analyst Kevin Carey, who authored the study, said the money includes all funds provided by the state for building and operating schools, as well as money raised through district property taxes.

"It's disturbing to see how much worse (Arizona's) gap became between school years 1999-2000 and 2000-2001," Carey told The Republic on Wednesday. "There's no way to get around it."

This is not news to Tim Hogan, attorney for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, who has sued the state on behalf of poor students.

"The pending lawsuit alleges that at-risk students need additional funds to give them a chance to achieve state academic standards," Hogan said.

Those math, reading and writing standards are measured by Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, also known as the AIMS test. By 2006, students must pass the AIMS test to receive a diploma.

"Bugs Bunny could do a cost study and it would result in the same position about what Arizona is spending," Hogan said.

Federal research has indicated that schools need to spend 20 percent more per poor student than what they are currently spending for things like tutoring and teacher recruitment to ensure the poor children keep up with the academic achievement of their wealthier peers. The study indicates that Arizona's gap between funding rich and poor students grew faster than the gap of any other state.

According to the Education Trust study, unless Arizona makes big changes, the gap will only worsen.

According to federal studies, schools will need to spend about 40 percent more per poor student than per rich student in order for the students to reach educational parity in 10 years, which is required by the new federal No Child Left Behind Act.

To help, federal officials sent Arizona $188 million this year. The money, aimed at Arizona's 370,000 poor students, is known as Title I money.

But the study says it's not nearly enough.

The Education Trust report said the amount of Title I money a state receives is based on how much money a state spends on each pupil; the less a state spends on its students the less money the federal government adds to the pot.