ARIZONA DAILY STAR
By Jennifer Sterba
Arizona stayed close to the bottom of the education barrel
again this year, ranking second-lowest nationwide in spending on K-12 students.
The National Education Association, a national teachers union,
released its annual state-by-state comparison Friday. Utah came in last of 51,
which included the District of Columbia.
The national average is about $7,900 per student, according to
Arizona gives schools roughly $5,300 per student through weighted
formulas driven by enrollments on specific days of the school year, up about 1.5
percent from the previous year. The state came in 50th in last year's report, as
That leaves some pretty important tangibles missing from the
classroom, said one mom in the Tucson Unified School District.
"When my son has a report, he has to go to the main library
because there's not enough books at school for everybody to have," said Debbie
Stoyer, whose son is a freshman at Cholla High Magnet School. Stoyer also has
two daughters in sixth and seventh grade in TUSD.
TUSD's administrators say they have enough from the state to give
students the basics, but it's the little extras that could go a long way toward
improving student achievement.
"We don't do the additional technology. We don't have the
computers to go around. They've become fairly obsolete and not updated," said
Patti Lopez, deputy superintendent and chief academic officer at TUSD. "This all
affects student achievement."
Science equipment and materials and graphing calculators are also
in short supply. "And the students are going to be assessed on that soon," Lopez
"The kinds of tools that are critical to meet AIMS are not
available to all children," she said.
Among the report's other findings, Arizona did not fare well in
student-teacher ratio, ranking third from the bottom in the nation. Last year
Arizona placed second from last.
Utah and California ranked worst and second-worst, respectively.
Arizona had about one teacher for every 21 students last school year, up one
student from the previous year.
The national average was just under 16 students for every
Arizona also pays its teachers about $5,000 a year below the
national average - around $45,000, earning it the 28th spot on the list.
"They don't pay the teachers enough to get quality teachers,"
Stoyer said. "They can't keep the good teachers around because they're not
paying the kind of money that needs to be paid."
Gridley Middle School Assistant Principal Arnie Adler agreed.
"In some cases, teachers have left the district and gone to other
places in the country because of salary issues," Adler said. "I had some
teachers on food stamps working at starting salaries. Some places, like
Connecticut, pay teachers around $70,000 a year."
The starting salary in TUSD for next school year is about $31,000
for someone with no previous teaching experience.
TUSD loses a third of its new teachers within the first three to
five years of their employment, said Paul Karlowicz, president of the Tucson
Education Association, the district's bargaining unit for teachers. Adding to
the difficulties, he said, is the need for teachers to spend more one-on-one
time with students assimilating into an English-speaking environment.
"It's not just the student-teacher ratio," he said. "We have a
diverse population. Combined, you have the earmarks for failure in the classroom
no matter how good the teacher is."
And enrollment continues to grow. About 964,000 students attended
public schools in Arizona last year, up 2.5 percent from the previous school
The state superintendent of schools says he has sought more money
"It's been a focus of my attention for a number of years," said
Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction. "We have work to do to
turn this around. Ultimately the family value is the education of our children."
Horne said that as the economy turns around and state revenue
picks up, his job will be to persuade the Legislature to give higher priority to
"My way of doing that is to emphasize accountability," he said.
Horne was alluding to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which holds schools
responsible for student academic achievement. The act also charges schools with
the responsibility of recruiting and retaining "highly qualified teachers" in
core subjects. Core subject areas include math, reading, science and social
"If we could pay more, that certainly would help," Horne said.
"Additional revenue will translate into higher academic achievement."