Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Million Here, A Million There. Putting Education Spending In Perspective

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2014 at 12:30 PM

Arizona schools want the legislature to add over $300 million to K-12 funding in next year's budget. Not much chance that's gonna happen. Brewer is calling for a lower number, $70 million, which makes her a big spender compared to her Republican counterparts in the legislature. Both of those are serious chunks of change. Brewer’s $70 million figure actually sounds moderately generous, and the $300 million request might sound a little greedy. But neither number makes much sense until we know how much difference it makes in the grand education funding scheme of things.

To understand what's going on, here are the two numbers you need to start with. About a million students attend Arizona’s K-12 public schools — that's district and charter schools combined — and the school year is 180 days long. So when you add a million dollars to the education budget, you’re adding a dollar per student per year, or a half a penny per student per day. A million dollars doesn’t go very far when it’s spread over all our public schools.

So, Brewer’s $70 million increase? That comes to $70 per student per year, or 39 cents a day. The schools' request for a $300 million increase (which, by the way, is the amount the state should be spending if funding had kept up with inflation over the past five years)? That’s a $300 increase per student, or $1.67 per day.

According to 2011 census numbers, Arizona is 47th out of 50 states in the amount we spend per student, just below Oklahoma. If we increase our spending by Brewer’s $70 million and Oklahoma stays put, we’ll move up to 46th place, inching out Oklahoma by $13. But if we boost our spending by the $300 million the schools are asking for, we’ll move up to (drum roll, please) the same 46th place. We’d still need another $85 million to equal 45th place Mississippi.

For once, I’m not going to draw any conclusions in this post. I’ll leave that to readers and commenters. I just want people to understand how those big budget numbers relate to the real world of students and schools.

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