Top 10 Myths About Education Funding and Budget Reductions

This press release just in from the Goldwater Institute.

Thursday, students are planning a march on the Arizona Legislature to demand that lawmakers not reduce funding of education programs. Lawmakers need not apologize for fixing this huge budget deficit the former governor left. Instead, everyone will need to tighten their belts and practice some fiscal responsibility. There’s no better time to learn this than when you’re a student!For Immediate Release: January 27, 2009

Top 10 Myths about Education Funding and Budget Reductions

Goldwater Institute separates budget myths from reality as lawmakers grapple with billion-dollar budget shortfall

Phoenix–Arizona faces one of the largest budget deficits in the nation and lawmakers are struggling to close the gap. Because half of all General Fund spending goes toward education, schools and universities will necessarily be affected by the state’s across-the-board belt tightening.

While some school administrators and special interest groups have referred to the potential budget cuts “slashing education” and “shortsighted and borderline malicious,” the Goldwater Institute would like to separate the reality of education funding in Arizona from several often publicized myths.

Myth #1: Schools simply cannot afford the budget reductions being proposed by the legislature.

Fact: The budget cuts proposed by the State House leadership amounts to a 2.5 percent reduction. Over the last five years, K-12 funding has increased by 40 percent. Reducing funding by 2.5 percent will still leave schools with more money than they had in 2008 adjusted for inflation.

Myth #2: Schools have tightened their belts as much as possible. There’s simply nothing left to cut.

Fact: Last year Tucson Unified School District lost track of millions of dollars in equipment. With similar highly publicized stories frequently surfacing, there’s room to tighten up. In addition to implementing better controls on equipment and supplies, the Goldwater Institute recommends three more ways schools and school districts can cut their budgets without eliminating teaching positions: 1.) Ban teachers from having non-classroom assignments; 2.) Ban teacher’s union employees from conducting union work on district payroll; 3.) Cut administrative bloat at the district level. Arizona has an unusually large share of non-teaching public school employees. Teachers make up slightly less than half of on-site staff in public schools, placing Arizona fourth worst among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in teachers as a share of on-site public school staff.

Myth #3: Arizona already ranks 49th in the nation in education funding and we don’t want to be number 50.

Fact: When all of Arizona’s funding streams are added up, Arizona school funding ranks in the middle of the states at more than $9,000 per student per year.

Myth #4: Suspending the tax credit for donations toward private school tuition will save money and mitigate the need for education budget cuts.

Fact: Getting children into private schools with $1,000 of foregone tax revenue costs less than the $9,000 spent on a child in the public school system. To save money, the legislature should expand the private school scholarship tax credit and move more children from public to private schools. Suspending it will disrupt these students’ educations and increase costs to the state as children return to public schools.

Myth #5: Student success will suffer if budget cuts lead to increased class size.

Fact: Research shows that students would be much better off if schools did let their most ineffective teachers go, and redistributed the students to more effective instructors. Teacher quality has been found to be 10- to 20-times more important than class size in achieving student learning gains. Schools could thereby cut their spending and improve student learning simultaneously.

Myth #6: All-day kindergarten is essential to successful child development and should not be eliminated by budget cuts.

Fact: Studies have consistently shown that any benefit from all-day kindergarten disappears by the time a child reaches the third grade, a phenomenon termed “fade out.” Also, all-day kindergarten was widespread in Arizona public schools before a specified state funding stream was created two years ago, districts can continue all-day kindergarten if it is a priority.

Myth #7: Individual districts and schools are reluctant to cut their own budgets, so the legislature should direct where cuts will be made.

Fact: Individual districts and schools will be far more effective in determining how to cut their budgets while protecting their students and employees and should be given the flexibility to set their own budget priorities.

To that point, Madison Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Tim Ham said on January 26, 2009:

“The Madison School District understands the crisis the State of Arizona is in economically and knows reductions in education funding will be required. We would ask that districts be allowed to use any of their funding sources to meet their obligations. This would require a temporary suspension of current legal requirements. However, it would provide flexibility, local control, and equality among districts.”

Myth #8: Cuts in university funding will drive Arizona into “Third World” status.

Fact: Statewide, higher education budgets have increased by $332 million since 2004. If the full proposed FY 2009 cut of $80.5 million to ASU’s budget were enacted, it would still receive more state funding than in 2006. Northern Arizona University would lose $31 million in FY 2009, but still receive more state funds than in 2007. The University of Arizona faces a proposed $103 million cut in FY 2009, which would take it back to 2004 state funding levels.

Myth #9: Investment in higher education is critical to the future success of Arizona’s economy.

Fact: Comparing states’ higher-education appropriations and gross state products yields no evidence that spending drives economic growth. From 1991 to 2000, none of the top 10 states in greatest higher-education appropriations were among the top 10 in economic growth.

Myth #10: Cuts to university budgets will make it necessary to double tuition thereby violating the Arizona Constitution’s clause to make higher education “nearly as free as possible.”

Fact: Legal precedent has determined that “nearly as free as possible” means tuition for Arizona public universities must remain in the bottom-third of the nation. Any increase in university tuition is required to meet that standard. As it stands, tuition at Arizona public universities is very low compared to national averages.

The Goldwater Institute is a nonprofit public policy research and litigation organization whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.


  1. Conservative does not mean Republican says

    As an ASU student, I’m concerned about the consequences of major budget cuts at the University. The Goldwater’s Matt Ladner pointed out the root of the problem…boom year overspending. Napolitano spent money as if economic growth were perpetual. Instead, when times are good our state lawmakers need to resist the temptation to spend the extra revenue. It will make it so much easier for the state to adjust when times are bad.

    Hopefully the state universities and legislators can work out an agreement that won’t damage the future of the schools too much.

  2. I just checked the stats on the private school tuition tax credit program on the ADOR web site. Rounded off, they are:

    $54 million in donations (i.e., revenue lost to the state)
    27,000 students receiving scholarships

    If the program were canceled and, say, 20,000 of those students moved into the public school system, the state would have to pay out about $100 million/yr (at ~$5000/student-yr). Thus, the program saves the state gov’t ~$46m per yr.

    Local school districts would also have increased expenses — perhaps $1500/student-yr. That’s an additional $30m. Total savings: ~$76m per yr. Not bad.

  3. Fallacy- ” cut the ineffective teachers…”

    Unfortunately, the idea that all cuts are of the dead weight is misleading. Most often, the staff cuts are driven by tenure and program– not effectiveness.

    Class size is never a determining factor of success for the people who have never taught.

    All the data relates to test scores, not accounted for are behavioral and discipline issues, drop out rates, and the drop off of excelling and gifted student growth. Special education referral and qualifications go up when more students are present. Less can be done for each child and more teachers refer out. That’s not in the data, but it is true. You gotta get out of the think tank though and work the room of a middle school core subject, a capacity full kindergarten, or maybe a special ed. class to get my point.

    I agree we need cuts across the board. I just don’t like policy dictated by people who haven’t done the job. It’s like having eggheads or peace activists try to run battle plans for the war from a remote location. Anyone with a brain knows you leave the battle planning to the generals in the field and the men and women in uniform who’ve done the job.

    I do agree along that line of thought that cuts are better done at the district level.

  4. Thanks for posting this, I was just thinking about where to try and get some information about this subject.

  5. The hard work has been done; it just hasn’t been properly identified and implemented. We have very successful and efficient schools throughout our state, serving differing demographics and using various delivery systems. Data is only as good as the results it produces when put into action; data rich, knowledge poor gets us nowhere.

    Establish a best practices model statewide by identifying what has actually worked in similar environments and replicate it within the local control abilities of the school board and administration. Using the stick instead of the carrot is never too productive for long. After awhile you are so beaten down it matters not what you desire, you just no longer have the energy to perform. Use the dollar as incentive rather than deduction as punishment. Performance pay, take part in the model and you will receive the funding established as necessary to produce those results based on the history of actual performance in other like districts.

    Scrap AIMS. It takes time and money that has no evidence of value beyond demanding dollars out of the classroom for management and oodles of number crunchers at the state. We have state standards at every grade; embed those into pre-and post tests at each grade level and subject so the success of each student can be tracked in real time and remediated on the spot. The current practice of waiting until they get to the end, then point out the deficiencies is hardly an honest attempt at affecting student achievement… and that is the purpose, right?

    Stanford 9 is a great way to determine if our students are truly competitive on a national level. Not just Mayer versus Morenci. It is less expensive and time intensive and cannot be adjusted to meet the political career development needs of anyone. Remember, curriculum standards are an act of the state; we should be able to see if they are as rigorous as our students require.

    Give everyone the same set of rules and the same amount of money…then let parents decide. Honest and open. That’s a start.

  6. Brandon Smith says

    What is all the fuss about? Seriously, do people really expect the Government to continue their role as Nanny state? The real problem behind ALL of the financial downfalls in this corporation known as the United States can all be found behind the walls of an Illegal crime syndicate known as the Federal Reserve. Protesting law makers not giving you money and being angry about it is like blaming the bus driver for running you over rather than the person that threw you under it to begin with.

  7. Veritas Vincit says

    “Only Iowa and New Mexico require any evidence that public school teachers are effective before granting them tenure, according to the review released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.”

    Look and see how Arizona rates… time to make the cuts.

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