Raising Arizona School Finance? Can’t be done!

Posted on March 7, 2009

So… I come across this blog which at first appears on target… indicating that typical rankings of state school finance are problematic. But then the blog goes awry…


The point of the blog is that Arizona school funding isn’t as bad as it looks. Not 49th nationally, and that funding alone is not all important. So… I went back to my model based estimates of “total state and local revenue per pupil” (which includes capital…), and my state effort indices (total state and local school spending as a share of gross state product and an actual student outcome measure – NAEP math and reading scores to see how Arizona really does.

My state and local revenue comparisons are based on a statistical model which controls for differences in the percent of children attending small remote schools, rates of poverty, regional variation in competitive wages, children with disabilities, etc. It controls for the generally accepted set of cost factors influencing the costs of producing student outcomes. With the model, I generate predicted values for a district of the same characteristics across all states (to the extent that such a district exists). Nonetheless, it’s the best way I can currently think of to get rid of all of that messiness that leads to misleading comparisons in Education Week and the Education Trust.

So… How does Arizona do?

How Does Arizona Really Do?

How Does Arizona Really Do?

So… Arizona is not 49th nationally… it’s 46th. Hooray! And, It ranks 43rd in effort, and 43rd in NAEP reading. The best AZ does is 37th in NAEP math.

In addition to these statistics, on which Arizona performs quite poorly, let me share a few other major concerns I have with Arizona school finance. Arizona is among the few states, which by the design of the state aid allocation formula actually allocates systematically fewer resources to higher poverty districts. This occurs because the state formula – unlike nearly all others – has no adjustment for poverty concentration. And, working against poverty, the state formula has an adjustment to drive more money to districts that already have more experienced teachers (Teacher Experience Index). This is disgraceful… and puts Arizona near the top of my list for “worst of the worst” in school finance.

Quick note to the author of the blog to which I initially responded here. The fact that Arizona ranks 21st (above 25th) on total education spending is meaningless when Arizona ranks 16th in the number of  children to be educated with that spending, and 13th in child poverty (Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates of the U.S. Census, 2006).

A technical note – having worked back and forth between state reported data systems and NCES fiscal data, I usually find a reasonable degree of correlation between the two. Not in Arizona. Arizona data – either the state version or the NCES version are highly irregular and it is difficult to discern which data are most accurate. I suspect that the state data are… but they are not generally available on the web (as they are in most states). AZ is particularly bad at public disclosure of school finance data.

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