Arizona second-stingiest to schools

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 the report.
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 well.
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 said.
"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 teacher.
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 year.
The state superintendent of schools says he has sought more money for schools.
"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 education spending.
"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 studies.
"If we could pay more, that certainly would help," Horne said. "Additional revenue will translate into higher academic achievement."
● Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or