AZ Education Budget: Antiquated Allocation Bankrupts All

by Gayle Plato, M. Ed.

Education funding, the liberal’s beaten poster child, never reflects reality nor sees the light of day. Ask any state legislator, “How does the state actually fund money for schools”, and you’ll get a description of per-pupil base support, phrases like large capital (the buildings and big stuff), soft capital for desks, and transportation. In addition, when you say things like, “Why don’t we dictate how many ___ or fire all of the ____,” their eyes glaze. Your cracked pot on which you stand is crumbling like art of Piestewa Area 51 notoriety. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Of course not. Because the average citizen cannot just look up the state budget for education and have ANY clear picture of how the money is allocated. At a recent town hall meeting of Americans for Prosperity, I heard two budget experts trying to explain the line item veto in regards to programs that Governor Brewer crossed out. The experts were confused, and they read this every day. I challenge anyone reading this with a child in an Arizona public school: please tell me how much your child’s district gets for your student? Nobody truly knows. Yet the teachers’ unions are screaming, the liberal lobbying groups including our beloved Arizona Republic complain daily about the state being near the bottom in spending. Since when, in the history of public funding, is spending less a BAD THING? I want to know if amount spent is showing a return! Why invest more in a system rising in cost and producing lousy products? Students in Arizona are GMs-SUV gas guzzling Jimmys.  We are the ones going bankrupt to build these lousy products.

“Following the formula through state financial documents, however, is
complicated. For example, in the Statement of Revenues and Expenditures in the Arizona Superintendent’s Annual Financial Report for 2006-07, state revenues received by school districts are reported according to enrollment-based formulas, categories of spending and Proposition 301 funds collected from a 2000 tax increase to be used specifically for teacher base pay increases, teacher performance pay and certain maintenance and operations programs.3 Within the Statutory Formula Programs section is the Basic State Aid, as well as additional enrollment determined categories. However, in the State Summary of Financial Data, Basic State Aid is not a line item. Rather, state revenues for the classroom are categorized as Maintenance & Operations, Classroom Site Fund, and Instructional Improvement Fund. There is no direct link between the two. Further, some of the statutory formula funds, such as for soft capital outlay, are broken out separately. This is all very convoluted, but the point is that the system lacks transparency and,therefore, accountability.”  (

We spend approximately half of our state budget on education: the cost problem is simple. Throw out the formula as it is not relevant. During a state time of open enrollment, where children can move freely between districts, per-pupil costs get muddy. Do we properly track transportation costs? My son cannot take a bus as he’s from ‘out of district’. Where do his travel bucks go? Doesn’t seem they go with him, and when I asked at the districts, no one seemed to have a clue. Price per desks, cost of books, transportation based on district boundaries: the terms themselves are not current. Kids don’t sit in individual desks all in row reading Dick and Jane. North Phoenix /Scottsdale schools use smart boards and lap tops, while lower income classes are still huffing dry erase pens in stuffy portables, sharing antiquated IT in backwards labs. Who are we kidding about equalization of funding?

This is not Left v. Right. This is the Past v. Present. We are using formulas that carry over from a time when tabulation was done by hand. We can track every child and know where he is sitting every hour, put it in a data file, and have to the state by the close of the school day. Technology is supposed to HELP STREAMLINE.


Regular Education: Offer a flat rate per child and let the districts sort it out.

All problems and costs beyond a flat rate based on the per student funding are up to the local citizens. Our Constitution mandates and recommends fiscal debate be with the majority of the people it impacts. Define the state amount based on pupil attendance. Determine an average cost for elementary and secondary regular education. Let them levy, bond, budget cut, or have bake sales. As a libs would say—buy and sell local.

Special Education: Get the state out of the way.

Federal funding tabulation does not need to go through the state as districts could submit data directly and get monies according to programs and students. Why do we filter all programs? Bureaucracy is the problem, with lots of made up jobs of cheese movers and crumb counters. Budget analysis is antiquated and fraught with waste.

Funds Follow Students

We are paying for kids to learn. The flat rate follows the child, and this should be accomplished in darn near real time. If the IRS moves to a majority of us electronically filing, with greater accuracy and less fraud, our education allocation can handle monitoring of students on a state level.

Emergency Funds are Temporary

Any school failing, falling down, feverishly growing, or facing crisis, needs to fill out specific requests with absolute cost analysis and face detailed scrutiny. This is the key for all state allocation problems. Our state gets in the middle of programming issues and temporary concerns, and then NEVER moves. We move the cheese and then let it mold.

No one, on a state level can mandate district decisions, but we are forced to pay for district mistakes. When any blogger writes, let’s fire all of the low-end administrators (yes I said that basically), all state level politicians literally laugh. Why? Because our ocean of debt is infiltrated by schools of jellyfish: endomorphic gelatinous blobs that float where they please, with far-reaching tentacles that sting all that swim. We allow schools to bite the hands that feed them. Make the districts grow up and balance the books, or the parents will vote the boards out and down all bonds.

Arizona creates odd mandates of building funds or programs like all-day Kindergarten. We allocate for a temporary need or local desire but then do not allow oversight, limits on pilot funds, or change as needed. If a district needs help with old buildings, let’s give official options for the emergency—not ongoing support. If a district wants all-day Kindergarten, we cannot line item it in for political points one year, but then not have ANY state control for fear of getting voted out.   That fear is the sting that’s killing us all.


  1. It’s depressing to see a post on education so poorly proofread that the non-word “atiquated” appeared in its title. Obviously, typos happen, and I’m sure you’ll correct it now, but it detracts from credibility, particularly on this subject, unless you were trying to (unconsciously?) raise the point that the educational system is so inadequate that people with advanced degrees lack proofreading skills we’d expect of a ninth-grader.

  2. Tucson Vice says

    At the endof the daiye, wee are still fifty first in the ‘Merica. Beehind Youtah, behind nevada and even behind misssisssipppi.

    Im not shoor what else their is to say here. It shows me that the R-pub majority in the legislature are good at one thing only…they are the absolute best at making arizona the absolute worst.

  3. Thanks for the catch Richard– got it.

  4. Didn’t you know that I’m in 8th grade—

  5. Government is to education what the U.S. Postal service is to mail delivery…a hindrance!

  6. New Handle says

    What about looking at a charter school? Payments to a single charter school ought to be really easy to track, right? I realize tax dollars are spent to regulate charter schools, but that’s probably a small amount.

  7. kralmajales says


    The post office works just fine.

    I get my mail and people get it when I send it….and it aint that expensive.

    Bad analogy. Frankly, I have a bigger problem with UPS.

    New Handle,

    Tax dollars are used to SUPPORT charter schools. It is a govt. program under the guise of what some call “market”. Many are good, many are not, but each are govt. contractors…through and through.

  8. Passage of Prop 13 Arizona will force a new school funding formula. It eliminates primary and secondary tax designations on which the current formula is based.

  9. Sunrise School – Bali Holistic School

    A model of inspired education, Sunrise School strives to develop young adults who are confident, responsible and creative builders of their futures. Sunrise School will provide a challenging and inclusive education with an emphasis on the whole child and on learning in a cooperative, community-centered environment.

  10. We have the topic determined…but this dialogue is like complaining about the jumbotron, the type of turf, and the even the comfort of the seats as to why the Diamondbacks aren’t as successful as they could, or we want them, to be.

    The anecdotal and unsubstantiated complaints of poor performance offer no credibility and feed the distraction. The issue of our ranking in dollars spent will be discounted as whining until it can be related to outcomes. Goofy announcements like the recent Goldwater Institute “survey” of high school students and the citizenship exam only serve to widen the gap of real, authentic discussions with results. That survey, 1300 high school kids…is equal to less than 2-3 kids out of each high school statewide. I’m guessing you could ask a couple of kids in each high school who the president is and they might not get it right, even considering the mass mania of Obama love that is our MSM. Learning is an active two-way endeavor, the recipient must decide to involve or the best delivery system will fail. Do we have any idea which schools, which areas, which kids were surveyed? It is a joke! We have plenty to be proud of in our schools and plenty to cause shame but such idiocy only compounds the delay in the action that we need.

    It is not all bad or all good. Charter is not the answer, it is part of the answer. Vouchers are not the answer, they are part of the answer. More money is not the answer…until we prove it is a need and show it with outcomes and not rhetoric. But, neither is less money.

    We need to lay off the slash and burn and look at what we can do to actually cause true and responsible reform. It can and should be done, but the echo chamber, my side-your side is as much responsible for the status quo as the AEA.

  11. Ann:

    If Charter Schools and Vouchers are not the answer, what is?

    The current public school system?

    Gimme a break!

    It seems that Kral and yourself seem to relegate yourselves to promoting the state as a “Jewish Mother”!

    Regardless of it’s extensive, pathetic track record!

  12. Carlist – really Ann was quite clear in saying all of these things are part of the answer.

    Here is what I would like to start from. What would it take to give kids in this state a world-class education? Its not a question that is going to have a simple answer.

  13. Todd:

    No simple answer but a good beginning would entail euthanizing John Dewey’s educational philosohy.

  14. Carlist,

    A little suggestion, seek first to understand, then I guess if you still have no self control…throw mud. Because this subject needs, demands, honest dialogue I will reply.

    Identify best practices in student achievement and fiscal accountability based on areas of similarities, demographic and community needs. Replicate those models in schools showing a record of poor performance and use them as the standard to meet. As for the adults, if you can’t do…you can’t stay. Simple as that. No more raises for breathing. Performance pay only.

    Then we allow the dollars to follow the child in a true open enrollment model. Should a parent CHOOSE, which is quite different than a state imposed curriculum, to enter their child in a school with religious education, so be it. One caveat, all entities accepting public dollars are held to the same level of public accountability. Same test, same reporting, same restrictions on spending and expectations toward achievement.

    Charter, traditional public, private, or home school…parents choose. But a strong local public school is among that list. Should an entity desire to not participate in the state funding, they may be an independent school or district and meet curriculum and achievement requirements as determined by the state and accreditation organizations.

    The market and competition will truly be in play and the best will rise and the weak will fail. Elimination will be by a form of natural selection and no school or district will be supported and rewarded for failure.

    That would be a start.

  15. Kral:

    The U.S. postal service is efficient and cheap?!!

    Have you, as a taxpayer, ever scanned the deficits it runs up on a yearly basis?

    Perhaps we should extend first class mail privileges to United Parcel and FedEx!

    If the governmental postal services were efficient, these private competitors would never have made it in the first place!

  16. Ann:

    I get the impression that you’ve either run for public office, or are planning to do so and have spent long hours lobbying.

    This is apparent by your attempts to “touch all bases” in public items of public debate and discourse and then once installed, cater to the status quo powers that be.

    This is the tack of the run-of-the-mill Republican hack whether the the topic be education of illegal immigration and crime.

    Ah yes! Problems are acknowledged but special controlling interests must be served whether they be the Public Education establishment or the State Chamber of Commerce.

    In an earlier post you asserted that vouchers won’t work. Yet in places where they were tried, Milwakee and Washington D.C. the results were positive. That’s why they were on the end of non stop liberal political efforts to quash them. In the latter case the government school types succeeded.

    While not fool proof (they can provide an avenue for government control of private education) vouchers DO allow the taxpayer to divert his/her property taxes to the educational institution of choice. The playing fields are thus levelled and competition decides the merits of education.

    This would force introspection and readjustment among public education officialdom and its indentured servants inhabiting school district boards to re-tune their institutions from indoctrination centers and holding tanks into true educational vehicles!


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