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Portion of Arizona Education Dollars Actually Spent on Instruction Hits a New Low

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The percentage of money that Arizona school districts are spending on actual classroom instruction hit a new low in 2013.

The Arizona Auditor General has been monitoring this figure only since 2001, but Arizona districts spent less than 54 percent of their available operating dollars in the classroom in 2013 -- the lowest percentage since the monitoring began.

"Each year since fiscal year 2004, districts have decreased the percentage of their resources they allocated to the classroom," the report says. "At the same time, the percentages allocated to administration, plant operations, food service, transportation, student support, and instruction support have all increased."

While Arizona's percentage spent on instruction is less than 54 percent, the national average in 2011 (the latest year available) was more than 61 percent. In the last 13 years, the highest portion that's actually been spent in Arizona classrooms was nearly 59 percent in 2004.

The difference, according to the auditor general: "Had districts continued directing resources into the classroom at the same rate they did in fiscal year 2001, they would have spent an additional $357 million in the classroom in fiscal year 2013."

And although the non-classroom spending has gone up, the percentage spending by Arizona districts on administration is about the same as the 2011 national average. It's the other costs -- plant operations, food service, transportation, student support, and instruction support -- that are making up the difference.

Districts that are described as "more efficient" were able to direct more funding towards the actual education. Here's how the auditor general described the differences:

  • Administration -- More efficient districts monitored performance measures and used staffing formulas, while less efficient districts had costly benefit packages and higher staffing levels.
  • Plant operations -- More efficient districts typically had energy conservation plans and monitored performance measures, such as building capacity utilization, while less efficient districts operated schools far below designed capacity and did not monitor energy consumption.
  • Food Service -- More efficient districts maximized use of free federal commodities and adjusted staffing levels based on industry standards for meals per labor hour, while less efficient districts did not obtain best food prices and had poorly written vendor contracts.
  • Transportation -- More efficient districts monitored performance measures and adjusted routes to ensure that buses were full, while less efficient districts paid drivers for time not spent working and failed to monitor vendors for accurate billing and effective performance.

One of the main impacts of less classroom spending is fairly obvious -- classroom sizes.

"Since fiscal year 2009, the number of students attending Arizona school districts has decreased 28,000 students, or 3 percent, while the number of teachers has decreased by 4,700, or 8.6 percent," a report summary states. "As a result, the State's average class size has increased during this time from 17.1 to 18.3 students per teacher."

In addition to classroom spending in Arizona being below the national average, the total per-pupil spending in the state is also well below the national average.

Click here to get the full report.

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Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.

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