U.S. Census: Arizona’s funding for students ranks bottom in the nation
Sections    Tuesday March 21st, 2023

U.S. Census: Arizona’s funding for students ranks bottom in the nation

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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Per Pupil Revenue Chart

Arizona provides less state funding per student that any state in the nation, according to national data released yesterday.

Gov. Doug Ducey asked the Legislature to put a measure on the ballot to direct new money from the state land trust into classrooms. Click here for more.

The data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Public Education Finances: 2013” also shows that Arizona has become more reliant over the past two decades on federal and local dollars for boosts to education funding. From 1992 to 2013, per pupil funding from federal sources grew 176.15 percent and dollars from local sources rose 76.99 percent, yet state funding increased by 49.3 percent.

U.S. Census: Arizona’s funding for students ranks bottom in the nation PerpupilSpendingTeacherAndStudentsHP1As a result and despite the increases, Arizona’s per student ranking among states based on a combination of federal, local and state funding dropped from 34th in 1992 to 48th in 2013. Arizona students receive only 69.5 percent of the national per pupil average, when all funding sources are considered. Only Utah and Idaho fund public education less.

When ranked by state funding sources alone, Arizona was 39th in 1992 and had fallen to 50th in 2013. The $3,018 per pupil provided in 2013 is just 53.8 percent of the national average.

“We have to have world class funding for education, and yet what’s happening now is a tragedy,” said Tom Forese, Arizona Corporation Commissioner at the annual Arizona Business and Education Coalition conference last week. “The money does have to go to the classroom. We need a steady increase of funding.”

If Arizona does not fund education, it will not be ready for upcoming opportunities, the brightest students will leave the state for careers elsewhere and people who could be saved by education won’t, Forese said.

“Education is what makes us great,” Forese said. “Education is what creates the next Steve Jobs in Arizona, saves the 14-year-old kid who’s going to be a drug dealer in two years, and takes poor kids on the reservation and gives them opportunities.”

While Arizona public schools per pupil revenue rose in fiscal year 2013, it remains 48th in the nation, $706 below what it was before the Great Recession and 69.5 percent of national education funding.

Per pupil revenue for public K-12 education rose $49 nationally to $12,380 in 2013 and by $252 in Arizona to $8,599, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Education Finances: 2013. The annual report released June 2 includes revenues, expenditures, debt and assets for public schools at national, state and district levels.

Click here for related story: Business, political leaders seek ways to increase Arizona’s education funding

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut led the nation in per pupil revenue in 2013, while Arizona, Utah and Idaho were at the bottom.

“Someone’s always in the Top 10 on every list relating to education. Why is that? That’s because they prioritize education. There is a cause and effect here. They don’t have a Legislature that cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts,” said Grant Woods, former Arizona Attorney General at the ABEC conference. “We don’t value education or we wouldn’t continue to do that.”

Funding sources

What changed?

U.S. Census: Arizona’s funding for students ranks bottom in the nation TomForeseABEC

Tom Forese, Arizona Corporation Commissioner speaks about financing public K-12 education at the annual Arizona Business and Education Coalition’s annual conference in Phoenix on May 22. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Over the past 21 years, Arizona per pupil funding from federal sources grew 176.15 percent, local sources rose 76.99 percent, and state sources increased by 49.3 percent, ranking Arizona last in the country for revenue from state sources.

The portion of Arizona’s per pupil revenue from federal sources grew from $453 in 1992 to $1,251 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census bureau report. Local funding rose from $2,391 in 1992 to $4,235 in 2013. Yet, over the past 21 years, state funding increased from $2,086 in 1992 to $3,116 in 2013.

Arizona’s funding was following the upward national trend of increases in state funding until 2008 when the Arizona Legislature cut education revenues in response to the Great Recession’s impact on Arizona’s economy.

In the late 1990s legislators “wanted to get more resources into education and we wanted to make sure that more resources as a whole were getting into the classroom,” said Ken Bennett, who served as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2014 and was a legislator from 1999 to 2007 at the ABEC conference.

U.S. Census: Arizona’s funding for students ranks bottom in the nation PerPupilRevenueChartFromPowerPoint

Information from U.S. Census Bureau Data. Chart by Chuck Essigs/Arizona Association of School Business Officials

“I think you had a unique situation where business and education came together to support the idea and it was supported by the voters as well,” Bennett said. “I actually believe that the same situation exists right now.”

When the recession hit, the Arizona economy dropped 10 percent over three years – 2008, 2009, 2010 – but the revenue coming into the state general fund dropped by a third before it started coming back ever so slowly, Bennett said.

To move Arizona to where it was ranked in 1992, the state would need to increase funding to $10,857 per pupil, about $2,258 more than the current amount, said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.