Today there was an article in the Arizona Daily Sun from the news wires about Arizona's rank order in terms of public school spending per pupil. I like the recent habit of the Daily Sun of placing the data for the story at the bottom of the article online. No hyperlink is provided, but one can at least see the numbers for oneself.
Per pupil revenues:
Source / U.S. / Arizona / AZ Rank
Total / $11,496 / $8,955 / 46
Federal / $959 / $984 / 22
State / $5,466 / $4,335 / 41
Local / $5,071 / $3,636 / 32
Spending / $9,666 / $7,196 / 47
Instruction spending / $5,867 / $4,102 / 49
One usually only sees the "instructional spending" category referred to in articles such as this, although sometimes you see the "state" category as well. However, the big secret of public school funding is that there are actually 3 or 4 different sources of funding, so they are never truly as poor as they make themselves out to be. In fairness, the other money often comes with strings, such as Title money from the Federal government. However, there is more money, often much more than when "instructional" spending is the only funding cited. By way of example, let us consider the local school district here in Flagstaff.
The Flagstaff Unified School District home page seems to be under construction at present, so I cannot get either the number of students last year or the budget directly. I find this vexing. The Daily Sun says the proposed budget of FUSD for the 2009-10 school year is $72.7 million. The Arizona Department of Education reports enrollment of 11162 students. By simple division, that comes to $6513.1 per pupil. That doesn't match up with any of the numbers above. Granted, those are state averages, but still.
The old FUSD website has the 2006-07 budget up, so we can look at that at least. Here is a screenshot, as the old site is sure to disappear.
One can see that even 3 years ago, the actual amount of revenue was $100,000,000, quite a bit over the $72,700,000 cited. The reason is the smaller number is only the portion that is regulated by A.R.S. 15-905.H, the rest falls into some other category.
We can also see one of the required financial reports the school district submits to the state on the Arizona Department of Education website for FY 2008. This report details actual spending of $108,000,000. With the average student headcount of 10533.833 students (how's that for exact?), we get actual spending per pupil of $10252.68. Wow! I wish my school had that kind of money! Now, the public schools do many things private and parochial schools do not. For example, field large sports team (with requisite stadiums), teach children with severe disabilities, and transport children en masse. However, for the interested, one can determine from the cited report that these three things in particular cost about $500,000, $10,679,000,and $4,250,000 respectively.* That comes to about 15% of the total expenditures. Not cheap by any means. This number is in line with the total spending we find in the Daily Sun, taking into account the expected variation across school districts.
Depending on what is called "instructional" spending, the cost is around $5600 per student. However, Arizona pays more than that, because you have to fund a great many other things as well. These other things cost another 20% or so. Thus, technically, Arizona only spends about $7000 per student of the $10000 per student total, but don't mistake that for what it costs to run the schools in Arizona.
*Note, these numbers are approximate, there are many categories that could apply to each of these things, and I only selected the obvious ones. I cannot pretend to have mastered the public school accounting system.