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State Capitol News

Tax Dollars in the Classroom Slid to Lowest Level Since Spending Has Been Monitored

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/knau/local-knau-955371.mp3

Phoenix, AZ – The new report shows that less than 56 cents of every dollar last
school year could be attributed to classroom instruction. That
includes salaries and benefits for teachers, aides and coaches.
It also covers supplies like pencils and paper, athletics, and
activities like band or choir. But Attorney General Tom Horne,
who was state school superintendent for the last eight years,
said those numbers are misleading because the report by the
Auditor General's Office presumes anything beyond that is
administrative expense.

(The measure that they're using counts as administrative costs
things that pertain very closely to the education of the
students, including nurses, psychologists, transportation to get
them to school, air conditioning to keep them able to learn.
Those things should not be considered an administrative cost. So
I think it's a very false measure.)

John Huppenthal, who succeeded Horne this past January, said he
shares some of the same concerns. He said expenses for
audiologists, speech pathologists and counselors should be
considered instructional costs. Huppenthal also found other
shortcomings in the report. He said that category of classroom
spending actually lumps two major expenses together -- teacher
and aide salaries, and supplies like pens, papers and workbooks.
He wants them separated.

(Tragically, there's no correlation between spending on teachers
and academic outcomes. It's our job to create that correlation,
but it doesn't exist right now. But there is a correlation
between supplies in the classroom and academic outcomes. So we
would like to focus on stuff that we have a plot, we have
indications that can yield some dividends.)

More than just percentages are involved. On a pure cash basis,
the report says said total spending on school operations
increased by 47 percent between 2001 and 2009 before declining by
4 percent this past school year. All totaled, Arizona's per-pupil
spending remains nearly $2,500 less than the national average.
All that combines to create larger class sizes. The report says
that in 2008 Arizona schools averaged 17.3 students for each
teacher. At that time the national average was 15. Now the
Arizona number is up to 17.9. Horne said he has consistently
argued for more funding.

(People argue about the rankings. And a lot depends on who does
the ranking. But Education Week is considered the gold standard
in the area. They have no reason to favor or disfavor Arizona
over other states. And they have us 49th out of 50th. And I think
that tells a lot.)

But Huppenthal said the lack of funding could be seen as an
opportunity for thinking outside the box.

(Our school districts in Arizona are under anywhere from mild to
severe stress in terms of the financial environment. As such,
they're more open to innovative ideas than ever before. So what
we have to have is ideas that can help them get greater academic
gains with lower spending.)

He said that can include blended classrooms where students from
multiple grades are combined but can proceed at their own rate,
often with the use of digital learning as well as classroom
instruction. But the Auditor General's report says funding is
relevant, finding a -- quote -- positive link between the
percentage spent on instruction and student achievement. For
Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.

Optional announcer tag: If you'd like to see how your local
school district fares on classroom spending, the full report is
available online at www dot auditorgen dot state dot A-Z dot U-S.
(www.auditorgen.state.az.us)