Arizona again ranks 50th out of all the states
and Washington, D.C., in how much it spends on
its students' education, according to the
national "Quality Counts" survey.
Arizona spends $6,010 per student, based on
2001-02 data and adjusted for regional cost
differences, according to the analysis done by
the newspaper Education Week. Only Utah spent
less, at $5,132.
The District of Columbia spent the most per
pupil at $11,269, followed by New Jersey and New
York, each of which spent more than $10,000 on
The national average, according to the study, is
$7,734 per student. The study uses figures
supplied by the U.S. Department of Education.
Arizona is perennially near the bottom of
national education funding lists, including a
National Education Association study released in
December that also pegged Arizona as 50th out of
Tucson Unified Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer
said Arizona's low level of education spending
conflicts with increasingly high expectations of
students and schools, which are now publicly
rated by the state.
"We're terribly underfunded for what's expected
of us," Pfeuffer said. "At some point, the
people in the state Legislature are going to
have to realize if they want the quality of
education they're pressing for, they're going to
have to increase the funding.
"If we're expected to be the Lake Wobegon of the
West, where everybody is above average, we need
at least 23 percent more funding - we have to be
at least average."
The effects of Arizona's low education funding
show in little ways that add up, educators say.
For example, at TUSD's Robins Elementary School,
three fourth-grade classes share one set of
social studies textbooks, while high school
students sometimes are not able to take
textbooks home to study because there is just
one class set.
Robins third-grade teacher Erica Quintana spent
part of her winter break buying and cutting
craft foam into inch-and-a-half-long strips to
make 25 individual kits illustrate fractions, so
her students can understand firsthand what a
whole, half, quarter, third, and sixth look and
Research shows that the most effective teaching
is tailored to each student's level, which means
teachers could have five reading groups in one
class of 29 students, said Robins' Principal
One-size-fits-all style lecturing with a teacher
in the front of the class and all students using
the same books and materials may be one of the
more cost-effective ways to run a school, but it
doesn't pay off in student achievement, she
Quintana also makes books of dramatic plays for
her students to use in class. Students at the
West Side school practice the parts and perform
a dramatic reading in front of the class,
without costumes or props, an exercise Quintana
said helps them with reading basics like fluency
"This is a different way of getting them to read
and making it interesting," she said. "They love
it, they absolutely love it."
Robins doesn't have the money to purchase the
books of plays, which cost $8 to $13 each, for
each student, so Quintana buys one book for each
reading level, photocopies them and puts the
homemade books in plastic covers in the hope
they'll last more than one school year.
"If I use just a regular reading series, I would
have 25 books on the same level and I would get
the third-grade level," Quintana said.
"Sometimes that doesn't work - it's too easy for
maybe six, too hard for maybe six and right for
just the kids in the middle."
The 2005 Quality Counts raises the point that
there is no accepted standard of how much a
quality education actually costs, per student.
The study used to use the national average for
per-pupil spending - $7,734 based on the 2001-02
figures used in the latest study - as a way to
measure the adequacy of funding, but Education
Week research-ers decided to not evaluate states
using that method in this report.
Later this month, the private Rodel Charitable
Foundation of Arizona will release its study on
how much money it would take to double student
achievement in Arizona, which would "get it to
be adequate, to where Arizonans can be proud of
their system," said President and CEO Carol
The low level of current funding gives Arizona a
chance to spend its money more wisely and build
a better system with more bang for the buck,
"Some states above the national average have
invested in some things that aren't proven to be
the most significant in raising student
achievement," she said. "Once you've invested in
something, it's difficult to pull back and
invest in something else because of the politics
involved - that's why Arizona can take advantage
of this opportunity."