Between fiscal years 2001 and 2009, Arizona’s total operational spending per pupil increased 47 percent before decreasing 5 percent between fiscal years 2009 and 2011. Despite this overall increase, Arizona’s per-pupil spending continues to trail the national average by nearly $2,700. Arizona districts also allocate resources differently than the national averages, spending lower percentages of available operating dollars on instruction and administration, and higher percentages on plant operations and student support services.
Arizona’s state-wide average classroom dollar percentage in fiscal year 2011 was 54.7 percent, a record low since our Office began monitoring classroom dollars 11 years ago. Each year since fiscal year 2004, districts have decreased the percentage of their resources they allocated to the classroom. Further, this shift in spending out of the classroom accelerated in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.
Although factors outside a district’s control—such as district size, type, and location—can affect its efficiency, some districts operate efficiently and have lower costs despite these factors, while others do not. As a result, there are wide ranges of costs within peer groups of similar districts. Performance audits of school districts have identified practices used by efficient districts, such as minimizing staffing levels, conserving energy, and effectively managing vendor contracts. Audits have also identified practices that make other districts less efficient, such as having costly benefits packages, operating schools far below designed capacity, and paying employees for time not spent working.