Arizona has consistently ranked among the bottom five states for the quality of its public school education, according to several analyses.
Education Week’s “Quality Counts” annual report released in three parts in January, June and September of this year gave Arizona an overall D+ grade of 69, ranking it 46th out 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Arizona’s 1.1 million pre-K-12th grade students are enrolled in 2,416 public schools across 715 school districts.
Arizona’s Quality Counts D+ ranking has remained steady since 2015, Education Week notes. Only Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma have posted worse overall scores than Arizona.
A recent analysis by the personal finance site, WalletHub, ranked Arizona's school systems 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, ahead of only Louisiana and New Mexico.
Both assessed education using different metrics.
WalletHub’s analysis evaluated 29 key metrics including performance, funding, safety, class size and instructor credentials. Arizona ranked last – 51st – for having the highest pupil-teacher ratio, 50th for quality of education, 34th for school safety, and 48th for its high drop out rate.
Education Week’s analysis graded and ranked states in three categories (Chance for Success (January), School Finance (June), and K-12 Achievement (September)) and combined the scores for a final overall grade.
The Education Week Research Center evaluated progress of educational opportunities and outcomes to students’ prospects for success over the course of a lifetime; how states spend on schools and distribute funds, test scores, graduation rates, and other outcomes.
With 1 as the best, 25 average, and 50 the best, Arizona ranked 17th best for its bullying incident rate and 24th for its median SAT score.
All other grades were below average: 35th for percentage of threatened/injured high school students, 37th for math test scores, 38th for reading test scores, 39th for Median ACT scores, 40th for number of licensed/certified public K-12 teachers, 43rd for drop out rate, and 50th for pupil-to-teacher ratio—the highest in the country of 23:1.
For those who maintain that more funding is needed to improve education outcomes, the Goldwater Institute points out that the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program has increased student funding while also reducing fiscal burdens on families and the state.
In its recent report, "The Public School Benefits of Education Savings Accounts: The Impact of ESAs in Arizona," the institute lists examples of how ESAs have helped 6,400 students in the past year alone, benefiting taxpayers and the education system statewide. Among them, 2,200 families with students with disabilities received more than $25,000 a year to better meet their children’s needs without putting pressure on district budgets to comply with federal rules.
ESAs increase per pupil public school spending by redistributing state and federal dollars back to remaining public school students each time a child opts out of public school and into an ESA, the report explains.
From state sources alone, ESAs redirect over $600 per participant back to remaining public school students for teacher pay and other operational uses. In fiscal year 2020, $3 million of ESA savings will be used to rebuild the state Department of Education’s IT system.
“Per-pupil expenditure has comparatively less impact on student learning than parental involvement or teacher expertise,” Mark Fabrizi, associate professor and associate chair of the Education Department at Eastern Connecticut State University, said. “While per-pupil expenditures are often included in algorithms that compare school quality, they do not tell the whole story and can even be misleading. Having said that, economics does play a role in student success. Research has demonstrated that one of the most significant factors in predicting student learning and performance is the socioeconomic status of the student and their family.”
Arizona taxpayers spend about $10,100 per student and employ about 48,124 teachers.
Despite this, Arizona student proficiency in math and reading still remains among the lowest in the U.S., Education Week notes. Its fourth graders are 33.9 percent proficient in math and 30.4 percent proficient in reading. By the time they reach eighth grade, their proficiency barely stays the same, with 33.5 percent proficiency in math and 30.5 percent proficiency in reading.
Arizona’s D+ ranking was worse than the nation’s C average, which hasn't changed since 1997, when Education Week first created the annual assessment of the nation’s K-12 education system.
Overall, Education Week gave 32 states grades between C+ and C-. States with the highest overall grades are concentrated in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with New Jersey and Massachusetts earning the highest grades of B+.