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ARIZONA, USA — For years, politicians have suggested Arizona school districts have bloated administrations.
However, statistics don’t support that claim.
Arizona school districts spend too much on administration expenses.
No, Arizona school districts don’t spend too much on administration expenses. They actually spend less than nearly every other state.
Spending data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests Arizona spent less on administrative costs than nearly every other state in 2020. The data includes expenses for the district office, superintendent, CFO, principals, clerical staff and directors of departments. It shows Arizona spent $573 per pupil in 2020. That amounts to just 56% of the national average.
According to the Education Finance Reform Group, which lobbies on behalf of public education in Arizona, data analyzed over the past three decades shows Arizona school districts are operating leaner as time passes. In 1992, the state spent 93% of the national average on per-pupil administration funding. Those funding levels dipped in the late 90s and again during the 2008 recession — more than the rest of the country.
A policy report, “District School Admin Costs Are Sound, Lower Than Charters,” analyzed administrative and teacher pay in Arizona district and charter schools. Considering expenses for “Maintenance and Operations,” charter schools spend $1,759 out of a total of $8,659 per student on administration costs (20%.) Public school districts spend $1,098 out of a total of $9,903 per student on administration costs (11%).
“Administrative costs for district schools are among the lowest in the country and about 10% of overall expenses, roughly half what charter administrative costs are,” the report states.
A spokesperson for the charter school industry disputes the reliability of such comparisons.
“Charter and district schools account for spending differently, which is why a comparison like this is concerning,” said Matt Benson, a spokesperson for the Arizona Charter Schools Association, in a written statement.
Curt Cardine, a Fellow with the Grand Canyon Institute (GCI), defends the report. Cardine says he provided the results of his findings to the Arizona Charter Schools Board and the Arizona Charter Schools Association before publishing them, and the organizations did not provide evidence to dispute his methods. According to Cardine, any discrepancies that misrepresent funding by charter schools would be the result of those charter schools not properly documenting expenses on state reports.
The analysis by GCI also found salaries of superintendents are lower in district public schools than comparable leaders (headmasters and CEOs) of charter schools. However, it’s important to note salary data reported to the state does not tell the whole picture. It does not include performance pay for some superintendents and does not break down other financial benefits for some charter owners.
Although there are some disputes about comparisons between school districts and charter schools, 12News can verify there is no evidence to suggest Arizona school districts have financially bloated administrations compared to the nation.
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