Over the past decade, Arizona’s total spending per pupil increased by 47 percent before declining 4 percent in fiscal year 2010. Despite this increase, Arizona’s per-pupil spending continues to trail the national average by nearly $2,500. 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 2010 was 55.9 percent, a record low since our Office began monitoring classroom dollars 10 years ago. The declining classroom dollar percentage indicates that many districts are violating statute by using Classroom Site Fund monies to shift other monies away from the classroom. Further, preliminary analysis indicates that, in Arizona, districts with higher classroom dollar percentages tend to have more efficient operations and higher student achievement.
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 have identified practices that some districts use to become more efficient and reduce their costs, 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.