Arizona students get less state money now than in 2008, study says
Arizona's results-based funding program gave low-income-area district and charter schools $14 million. Middle- and higher-income ones got $24 million.
Arizona cut more funding to K-12 public schools than any other state from 2008 to 2015, according to an analysis of spending nationwide.
And while it has restored some funding in more recent years, it has not fully restored what was cut.
Those are among the findings from a study published Wednesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based left-leaning think tank, detailing state cuts to education funding between 2008 and 2015.
According to the study, Arizona during that time frame reduced state funding per student the most out of all states — by 36.6 percent.
The study found that 29 states spent less overall per student in 2015 than they did in 2008, when the recession hit.
SEE ALSO: How Arizona school funding works
But while Arizona reduced its education funding more than any other state between 2008 and 2015, it does not currently have the steepest decline. Arizona has added some funding in recent years, including through Proposition 123.
Arizona currently is spending 13.6 percent less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2018 than it did in 2008, according to the study. Oklahoma currently has the largest gap, spending 28.2 percent less per student.
Michael Leachman, the center's director of state fiscal research, said states' cuts to education funding have resulted in "real and damaging consequences" to the nation's public schools, affecting classroom sizes, teacher quality and student services.
And in Arizona's case, Leachman said, the data "is certainly not suggesting that Arizona is recovering the cuts that have been made since the recession hit."
Ducey spokesman challenges study's conclusions
Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, questioned the study's findings. He said the study did not accurately provide context on the additional funding Arizona's public schools have received in recent years.
For example, state funding to Arizona schools has increased by $700 million since 2015, Scarpinato said.
Nearly half of that money — more than $300 million — is the result of voter approval of Proposition 123, which settled a longstanding lawsuit over the state not fully funding inflation during and after the recession.
Scarpinato also said per-pupil funding in Arizona has increased 10 percent since 2015.
"I don’t think we should be using liberal or conservative organizations for a barometer," he said. "We should be using the numbers and be looking at this objectively."
Arizona spent an inflation-adjusted $3,782 per student in 2015, compared to $4,157 per student in 2018, according to documents from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Both figures are below what Arizona spent per student in 2008, according to the Center on Budge and Policy Priorities study and an analysis by The Arizona Republic.
Scarpinato added that while Arizona is making progress, "more definitely needs to be done" to improve schools' funding, and that it is a top priority for Ducey.
"That’s our focus: How do we drive up these numbers, and how do we make (education funding) whole again from what occurred during the Great Recession?" Scarpinato said.
Districts turn to bonds and overrides
Early returns show all 27 school bond and override measures in Maricopa County tilted toward approval.
Capital funding in Arizona, in particular, took one of the steepest cuts. That money, which pays for things such as new school buses, textbooks and school construction, is estimated to have been cut by about 85 percent for most schools.
The loss of state funding since the recession has driven many school districts to ask their local voters to offset some of the cuts by approving bonds and overrides, property-tax-funded measures that can be used for teacher pay and school maintenance.
Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said the study's findings on Arizona are "not anything new." But he said they reflect Arizonans' desire to add more dollars to the state's public-education system.
Arizonans from across the state harshly criticized political and education leaders at an Arizona Town Hall forum this month for what they perceived as a slow response in addressing the "emergency" and "crisis" regarding teacher pay.
Earlier in November, Maricopa County voters approved all 27 school bond and override measures — a rare feat of support for taxpayer-funded initiatives that previously have proven difficult to pass in some communities.
"To me, this is just a series of reports that are saying the same thing: We are having a crisis in Arizona in how we're funding our public schools," Essigs said. "Why can't the state of Arizona get the message?"