According to a recent study by Edbuild, Arizona spends $7,613 more per student in predominantly white districts than predominantly nonwhite districts. That would make us the most inequitable state in the nation when it comes to funding our school districts.
Edbuild's study was picked up by media outlets across the country. You can read all about it in the New York Times, the Washington Post and hear about it on CNN and NPR, to name a few major outlets that carried the story. It's also been covered by Arizona media.
If the $7,613 figure comes from a reputable nonprofit which focuses on problems of funding inequality and segregation in the nation’s public schools and is repeated often enough in the media, it must be right. Right?
Wrong. As I explain in an article which will be running in Thursday's print edition of the Weekly, the figure is not only wrong, it's wildly wrong. Arizona may do a lousy job of funding its schools, but it does a reasonably good job of spreading the money out evenly across districts.
For almost 30 years, Arizona has used a funding equalization formula to distribute money to school districts. Before that, schools were funded primarily by local property taxes, which meant districts with expensive homes were rolling in education dough while districts with lower property values struggled to find enough money to run their schools.
Arizona's equalization system is far from perfect. Some school districts, mainly in high rent areas, find ways to game the system and bring in extra money for their students. But compared to other states, we do a fairly good job of evening out the money each district receives.
Instead of being labeled as one of the worst offenders in the way we distribute our education funds, we should be praised as one of the best.
Here are three reasons I know we're doing a reasonably good job of equalizing education funding:
First, I did most of my teaching in Oregon which didn't equalize district funding. We had some districts in high rent areas with so much money, their children might as well have been attending lavishly funded private schools. Meanwhile, districts in low income areas were starving for funds. Some districts were forced to close weeks early because they ran out of money. We don't see those kinds of funding highs and lows in Arizona.
Since I left Oregon, the state has taken steps to remedy its funding inequity. In other words, in this one area, Oregon is doing things more like we do them in Arizona.
Second, Arizona fares well in national studies on the way states distribute their education funds. One major study puts Arizona in the top 20 in funding equity. Even Edbuild, which created the recent study slamming Arizona, put us in the "revenue neutral" category in a four year old study.
Third, our Republican legislators would love to get rid of equalization system, so it must be doing something right. They tried and failed in 2009. If we're going to devote as little money as possible to education, they reason, we might as well put as much as we can into educating children from high income families. After all, children of privilege need the best education we can give them so they can retain their privilege when they're adults. No sense in spending money to educate the lower classes and give them a chance to compete for scarce, high paying jobs, is there? Better to keep their funding low. They only need to learn how to read, write and compute at the sixth grade level, and how to say, "Do you want fries with that burger?"
So how did Edbuild arrive at its wildly inaccurate conclusion that Arizona spends $7,613 more in predominantly white districts than in predominantly nonwhite districts? You can read all about it in my Thursday article.