K-12 education in Arizona is missing a billion dollars. The phrase is repeated so frequently the media mimics it without understanding its meaning. The trouble is, it’s rhetoric — not fact.
Total K-12 spending a decade ago was $9.7 billion for $9,263 per pupil and the estimate for today (not including the recently passed state budget) is $10.9 billion at $9,774 per pupil according to JLBC.
Advocates calculate the one billion figure with misleading math. They take total spending from FY 2008 and adjust every single fund source for inflation through today. Every fund! This despite there being no voter requirement to inflate anything other than the equalization formula. This twisted measurement curiously begins its analysis 11 years ago during the economic fantasyland of 2007.
Plainly, there is no mechanism to inflate every fund that goes to K-12. Is the state Legislature responsible to inflate the more than one billion dollars the feds provide? The money the state spends on new school construction is based on district growth; not an automatic adjustment for inflation. Bonds and overrides are local matters and depend on voter approval. There are hundreds of millions in nonformula programs that are capped or otherwise limited. Measuring the state’s commitment to education in this manner is intentionally unreachable.
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