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AZ School Districts Now Pull $2,000 More Per Pupil Than Charter Schools

February 9, 2023

As Arizona lawmakers lifted the spending limits on school districts this week, the state’s charter schools continue to do more with (relatively) less: The funding gap between Arizona’s school districts and its public charter schools has grown to over $2,000 per student as of 2021-2022, based on newly released state data.

The district-charter funding disparity has been exacerbated by the infusion of COVID stimulus dollars that heavily favored school districts, as explored in a 2022 Goldwater Institute Report.

When the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) issued in August 2022 its most recent analysis of district-charter funding patterns (covering the 2020-2021 academic year), school districts were receiving roughly $1,900 more per student, on average, than public charter schools. Now, based on the data released in Superintendent’s Annual Report this past month, that gap has widened even further to nearly $2,100 per student in the 2021-2022 school year, as districts’ per pupil revenues reached over $13,500, compared to charters receiving less than $11,500 per child on average.

In fact, JLBC’s estimates that overall Arizona public school per pupil funding in the current year (2022-2023) have already increased roughly $1,000 over last year suggest that school districts are currently pulling over $14,000 per student this year.


Source: Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Annual Report of the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, based on total revenues and total average daily membership reported for school districts and charter schools statewide.

Despite their relative funding disadvantage, however, the state’s charter schools continue to attract more Arizona families, with overall charter enrollment projected to have increased by thousands of students this year, even as overall district enrollment stagnates.

Indeed, high-performing charter networks such as Great Hearts, BASIS, American Leadership Academy, and others continue to offer programming that has proven attractive to families, while several of the state’s largest districts such as Scottsdale and Tucson Unified Districts have shed thousands of students, maintained costly excess facilities, and failed to translate their considerable size and resources into sufficiently high-quality instruction. Fortunately, recent school board elections in Scottsdale and elsewhere have seated reform-minded parents among district leadership to begin righting the direction of their schools—echoing the success of pro-parent school board candidates around the country such as those backed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis this past November.

From Arizona to Florida and virtually any state in between, students and parents can celebrate the roughly thirty years of opportunities afforded by the creation of charter schools. And they can look forward to their growth in the decades ahead—even if their funding continues to significantly lag behind that of traditional school districts.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy. 



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