Liars Figure and Figures Lie

The Office of Arizona Auditor General just released its 2015 “Dollars in the Classroom.” The report makes it clear that Arizona continues to struggle to adequately fund district schools while trying to stay consistent with classroom dollars and keep administrative costs below the national average.

The report also highlights the lower teacher salaries and larger classes which translate into fewer dollars for teaching and learning. But, what isn’t clear in the report is that the definition of “classroom” has changed. In last year’s budget, “classroom” was redefined as instruction, instructional support and student support. This change was made to more accurately reflect all the costs that go into classroom instruction, such as: physical and occupational therapists; reading and math intervention specialists; media specialists/librarians; counselors and social workers. The Auditor General’s Report doesn’t reflect that change for 2015.

Even so, the report shows school district classroom spending at 53.6%, whereas the AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction’s report shows charter school classroom spending at 50.8%. Likewise, a recent report showed that AZ charter schools spend more than twice the amount school districts do in administration (costing taxpayers an extra $128 million). Charter schools may be public schools, but they are not included for analysis in the Auditor General’s Dollars in the Classroom Report (surprise, surprise.)

Although Arizona spends less on administration than any other state and is far below the national average, it’s classroom spending continues to be low. There are multiple reasons for this such as: low-overall funding (48th in nation); students poorer than the national average who require additional support services (ELL instruction; meal assistance; tutoring; etc.); higher plant operation due to temperature extremes; higher costs per square footage due to aging and inadequate funding for maintenance; and higher transportation costs due to vast rural and remote areas.

Dr. Tim Ogle, Executive Director of the Arizona School Boards Association, writes that “We continue to stand by the fact that the “dollars in the classroom” measure is an outmoded way of benchmarking how Arizona supports student success. It does not describe effective use of dollars dedicated to teaching, learning and graduating students that are equipped with the skills to succeed in the real world. The real issue should be student achievement.”

Ah yes, but true achievement is hard to track, measure, and compile. True achievement is tracked by teachers in their classrooms, and parents in their homes. True achievement comes when the environment surrounding a student is conducive to learning, and when the adults at every stage of the process, are student focused.