Arizona's $4.5 Billion Classroom Crisis
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 8th, 2023
Contact: Tyler Kowch, 602-321-7290
Arizona’s $4.5 Billion Classroom Crisis
Today in the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Grantham asked what it would take to fully fund education in Arizona. Thanks to recent data from the US Census Bureau and Education Law Center, Director of Save Our Schools Arizona Beth Lewis gave an unequivocal answer: $4.5 billion in funding would align Arizona with the national yearly average. Arizona students receive at least $4,200 less each year than their average peers, severely limiting their academic opportunities and fueling the state’s exploding educator retention crisis.
Arizona’s legislature has finally backfilled 2008 recessionary cuts, but Arizona’s K-12 funding ranked 48th in per-student spending in the nation in 2008 and we remain 47th today. We must re-imagine what a fully-funded education looks like so that our schools can innovate, offer individualized learning, adequately protect students, and teach 21st-century skills that children need to thrive after graduation. Schools have diverse needs, but here are some examples of how a fully-funded education system will invest in our students:
- Raise educator & staff salaries. Arizona’s teacher and staff pay is $1.2 billion less than the national average. To recruit, retain, and re-engage high-quality educators, schools must be able to offer competitive pay.
- Reduce class sizes. Arizona’s classrooms are the second most crowded in the nation, preventing students from receiving individual attention and leading to burnout among educators with higher class sizes. Experts estimate it will cost $1 billion to adequately reduce AZ class sizes.
- Fix school facilities and transportation. Significant investments are needed to build modern bus fleets, address rural transportation needs, and fix aging school buildings across the state. According to a current lawsuit, districts need close to $6 billion in school facilities repairs alone.
- Invest in extracurriculars, arts, sports, and programs. Budget cuts have forced schools to strip out many programs that help grow a robustly educated future generation.
- Fund special education. In 2017, there was a $100 million gap between public schools’ special education funding needs and how much they actually received. This ever-widening gap means schools must sweep funding from other budgets, or children with special needs go without necessary services.
- Fund full-day kindergarten. Arizona only funds half-day kindergarten, meaning that districts and charters must sweep money from elsewhere in their school budgets to offer full-day programs. It will cost $350 million per year to fully-fund kindergarten students.
- Provide counselors, social workers, and safety programs. Arizona’s counselor-to-student ratio remains the second highest in the country; our schools must invest in the mental health supports students desperately need, particularly post-pandemic.
Dramatic, positive change is possible; our neighbors in New Mexico are a prime example. The New Mexico legislature has made significant investments in K-12 education, advancing from 39th in per-student spending to 28th in just a few short years. Much of Governor Hobbs’ proposed budget is devoted to moving Arizona’s education system in the right direction, and we support the investments her office has laid out.
We must come together now as Republicans and Democrats, parents and grandparents, educators and business leaders to fix this worsening crisis — before it’s too late. We call upon Arizona’s legislative leadership to work in a bipartisan fashion with Governor Hobbs to develop a robust four-year plan to intentionally and strategically put Arizona on track to meet the national public education funding average. Arizona students deserve nothing less.