Last week I wrote that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s official figures show that total per pupil school spending in Arizona increased by 20 percent between 2000 and 2009, while the state’s scores on the Nation's Report Card have increased by less than 1 percent.
Hearing their cue, the Arizona Education Network responded by throwing as much mud in the water as possible. AEN claims that the JLBC numbers are inflated because they include a variety of non-education related spending, including “lunch money, after school sports, adult night programs, adjacent ways (sewer & road repairs as a result of city maintenance), and other non-revenue dollars.”
I could wade into the weeds by noting that the free and reduced lunch program is funded for an educational purpose (the theory being that full stomachs improve learning), that the adult education budget is tiny, and that we do, in fact, build school buildings for an educational purpose. If not, let’s not build any more.
But, there is another way to make this point. The JLBC also tracks Maintenance and Operations inflation-adjusted spending per pupil. M&O funding covers the basic day to day school spending. Not much, if any, of the money that the AEN claims inflates the spending numbers would make it into the M&O figures.
Between 2000 and 2009 Arizona M&O spending increased by 20 percent, the same percentage increase as overall education funding. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that non-education spending is the main driver in the increased funding to our schools. As I mentioned above, while funding has gone up 20 percent, test scores have increased by less than 1 percent.
If you sent 20 percent more iron and coal to the mill and got less than 1 percent more steel, you would probably want to figure out what went wrong. Alternatively, you could place your hands over your eyes and call for more iron and coal.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Arizona's Education Stagflation
Goldwater Institute: Don't let demographics block academic growth
Joint Legislative Budget Committee: K-12 Maintenance & Operation (M&O) Funding