A 'baby step,' not a leap for Az education funding
The courts have ordered that Arizona’s Legislature must restore cuts to education funding that were made several years ago. The promise of an additional $233 per student translates into more than $300 million additional dollars going into our schools next year.
That’s good news for those concerned with the state of our education system, but it’s not a cause for celebration: Arizona’s schools were woefully underfunded before the budget cuts were made and restoring this money simply moves our funding level from disastrous to routinely terrible.
Let’s put things in perspective: Adding the court-ordered funding still leaves us near the bottom among the 50 states for education funding.
We can expect considerable discussion about where the state will come up with $1.6 billion over the next 5 years to fulfill the court’s order. However, if we’d like to move Arizona’s education funding up to the national average, we’d need to spend about $2 billion more per year. Not over five years, but every year. And that just gets us to average funding; the amount needed to make us a top-10 state is truly staggering.
Such enormous increases are very unlikely to happen, but we can’t begin to fix our educational system until we realize the magnitude of the current problem.
Arizona’s poorly funded and poorly performing education system didn’t spring up overnight; it’s the result of policy decisions going back many decades. These decisions have given us a low-tax state with a workforce that is best suited to low-skill, low-wage jobs. Jobs that have little potential for advancement and that are constantly vulnerable to threats of outsourcing and economic disturbance.
If there is any political will to change this situation, it will require years of consistent effort and sacrifice to make substantial improvements. It took decades to get to dig ourselves into this deep hole of education funding and it will take decades to climb out. Perhaps this recent ruling is the first baby step out of the pit.
Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.
Dan Hunting is a Senior Policy Analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.