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'Ghost Students' Cost Arizona Taxpayers $125 Million Each School Year

October 29, 2014

PHOENIX – Arizona taxpayers spend $125 million each school year funding more than 13,000 ghost students at public schools.

In a new report, “Ghost Busters: How to Save $125 Million a Year in Arizona’s Education Budget,” Goldwater Institute education director Jonathan Butcher explains that Arizona’s outdated school funding system pays for some students twice. Arizona schools are funded based on the number of students who attended the school in the previous school year. But when a student transfers out of one school and into another, the school receiving the student can apply for funding for that student mid-year. This results in two schools – the school the student used to attend and the school the student attends now – receiving money for the same student. And it costs taxpayers $125 million each school year.
“We are literally throwing $125 million school funding dollars into a black hole,” says Butcher. “More money would be available for all schools if we weren’t paying for ‘ghosts’.”
Two years ago, Arizona voters passed a temporary sales tax increase to protect schools from budget cuts during the recession. That tax is set to expire next year and some groups are proposing an extension of that temporary sales tax and are working to put that question on the November election ballot.
“Do we really need to raise taxes on families when we are paying for thousands of empty desks?” says Butcher. “We should re-direct the money that is double-paying and fill whatever gap schools may have.”
In the report, Butcher recommends adjusting the way schools are funded to prevent these double-payments in the future. Instead of funding schools based on last year’s enrollment, school funding should be based on current enrollment, he says. He says that Arizona’s 524 charter schools are already funded this way.
“We already have a model for how this funding structure would work. We do it like this for charter schools,” Butcher says. “They are funded on current student counts and adjust according to the increases and decreases in their student populations. All we’re asking is that all schools be funded like charter schools.”
This simple fix, Butcher says, would save taxpayers millions each year.
Read Jonathan Butcher’s bio here.
The Goldwater Institute protects America’s greatest inheritance – the liberty and economic freedom of the individual – by holding government accountable and standing up for regular taxpayers just like you. Learn more about the Goldwater Institute at



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