Log in


Arizona districts spent smaller percentage of money on classroom instruction: report

Posted 3/4/24

PHOENIX - More than two-thirds of the school districts in Arizona spent a smaller percentage of their available dollars in classroom instruction in the last school year than the year before, …

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already have an account? Log in to continue.

Current print subscribers can create a free account by clicking here

Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe. The five stories do not include our exclusive content written by our journalists.

For $6.99, less than 20 cents a day, digital subscribers will receive unlimited access to YourValley.net, including exclusive content from our newsroom and access to our Daily Independent e-edition.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in
I am anchor

Arizona districts spent smaller percentage of money on classroom instruction: report


PHOENIX - More than two-thirds of the school districts in Arizona spent a smaller percentage of their available dollars in classroom instruction in the last school year than the year before, according to a new report.

And overall spending, on average, is the lowest percentage since the Auditor General's Office began monitoring in 2004.

Data from that office found that overall spending on instruction among all the districts in the state increased by more than $341.4 million. And overall spending hit nearly $12.6 billion, up by nearly $1 billion, much of that likely due to continued COVID-19 relief funds.

But while there was more money in the system, the report says that just 53.4 cents of every dollars was spent in the instruction category. That covers everything from teachers and aides to instructional supplies, field trips and athletics.

That is down 1.1 percentage points on a statewide basis from the prior school year.

Auditor General Lindsey Perry said multiple larger, urban districts reported that they had to spend more of every dollar they were getting on student and instructional support services.

Examples cited included counselors and instructional coaches as well as having to use more expensive contractors to fill support service needs for special education students.

Perry also said that multiple districts of varying sizes said they made large investments in instructional materials the prior year - spending that counts toward instructional dollars - but did not have similar purchases this past year.

And there was something else. She said rural districts reported that they lost tenured teachers who were replaced with lower-paid staff.

"However, FY 2023 was the second year in a row that most districts' and the statewide instructional spending percentage decreased, indicating the potential start of a trend of districts allocating more of their available resources to operational areas other than instruction,'' Perry wrote.

The results of the annual report have played a role in the perennial debates at the Legislature about whether the dollars being allocated actually are getting into the classroom.

And this one comes as lawmakers are debating competing plans designed to use proceeds from the state land trust to hike teacher pay.

The plan backed by Republican legislators earmarks all of the proceeds to teacher pay, arguing that is the greatest need.

But Gov. Katie Hobbs and Democrats are backing a different plan, with more money, that also would raise salaries of support staff, from counselors and coaches to bus drivers and cafeteria help.

One important note is that 53.4% figure does not represent everything devoted to services provided to students.

Student support, the costs of counselors, audiologists, speech pathologists, nurses, social workers and attendance services, ate up another 9.5 cents of every dollar. Add to that another 6.2 cents for instruction support which includes librarians, teacher training, curriculum development, special education directors, media specialists and instruction-related technology services.

That gets to 69.1 cents on each dollar.

Of the balance, the largest share - 11.6 cents - is for utilities, building maintenance, grounds keeping and security.

There's another 10.3% for administration, starting with the school superintendent and principals along with business managers, clerical and accounting staff and human resources.

That leaves 4.5 cents for food services and 4.5 cents for maintaining and operating the buses to get students to and from school and activities.

On that question of teacher pay, the report also contains data showing that average teacher pay in Arizona hit $62,934 last school year. And that is the equivalent, on average, of a 30% increase since the 2016-2017 school year, some of that fueled by COVID relief dollars.

That word "average'' is significant: More than one out of every five districts actually saw a decrease in average year-over-year teacher salaries.

The report says those districts, along with others that gave relatively small raises, may have used dollars they received intended for teacher salary increases for other purposes.

But it also cites the issue of teacher experience.

"Most districts that had a decrease in average teacher salary also employed, on average, less-experienced teachers than the prior fiscal year,'' it says, teachers who are paid less.

Nearly one out of every five teachers has been on the job for three years or less, with an average salary statewide of $47,952.

Still, on a statewide basis, the average years of teacher experience increased a tenth of a point, to 11.9 years. But there also was an increase in the average number of students per teacher, up from 17.2 the prior year to 17.7.

The report also looked at operational efficiencies.

Overall, the number of students per administrative position stayed pretty much the same. But the spending for student went from $1,088 in the 2021-2022 school year to $1,207 last year.

Food service costs also are up to $4.12 per student this past year versus $3.25 the year before. But the number of meals served had decreased.

The report says this was likely due to a waiver from the federal government, which expired last school year, that allowed school districts to serve free meals to all students regardless of household income and receive a fixed-rate reimbursement per meal from the federal government.

That expiration, the report says, led to decreased participation in their food service programs, resulting in fewer meals service.