In recent months, teacher protests have swept across the nation like a hurricane, from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona. This Thursday, April 26, more than 70 school districts and charter schools in Arizona will close for teachers to demand fair salaries and school funding.
Arizona routinely ranks worst in the nation in terms of prioritizing the education of its youth. Teacher pay is seventh lowest in the country in gross numbers but lowest when adjusted for cost of living. During the recession through 2015, Arizona slashed school budgets more than any other state.
But as we have reported in the past, it’s worth remembering who is hardest hit by educational budget cuts: Latino and immigrant children.
In the Phoenix area, schools are effectively segregated because of economic issues; in 172 public schools, young people of color (mostly Latinos) make up at least 90 percent of students, according to a recent exposé in Phoenix New Times. These schools also suffer from high teacher turnover, meager resources, and test scores well below the state average. Just 22 percent of students, on average, pass the AZ Merit English exam, while 24 percent pass the math exam.
The success of Arizona’s Latino population is central to the future success of our state as a whole. –ASU President Michael Crow
Many students in predominantly Latino areas face an onslaught of other challenges, especially in this era of ceaseless attacks on immigrant communities. If they and/or their parents are undocumented, they suffer the constant fear of deportation. Most are economically challenged, creating a sustained static of stress and instability in their minds. Many are struggling to learn English as a second language. Many have parents who don’t understand how to navigate the American education system.
Arizona’s school funding problems exacerbate all these issues.
According to Arizona State University’s “State of Latino Arizona 2016” report, from 2003-2004 to 2013-2014, state funding for schools dropped by $464 million. Local funding increased by $1.1 billion to make up for that. But local funding shortchanges low-income, Latino-dominated communities.
“Anytime you have local funding in Latino communities, you can count on that funding being inequitable,” said lead author Dr. David Garcia shortly before the release of the report at talk hosted by the Arizona Latino School Board Association.
K-12 public schools are supported by a combination of federal dollars, state money, and local funds from an area’s property taxes, bonds, overrides, and families’ donations. Predominantly white areas have much higher property values, so they generate many more tax dollars for their schools.
In 2014, in areas with low Latino enrollment, the per-pupil property tax value was $102,808 for elementary school districts and $88,216 for unified (K-12) districts. That same year in areas with high Latino enrollment, the per-pupil property tax value was $38,414 per pupil for for elementary school districts and $25,282 per pupil for unified (K-12) school districts.
Federal funds compensate for the discrepancy. However, majority-Latino schools must still overcome much bigger hurdles than other schools, with similar resources. Schools should not get equal resources but equitable resources – meaning schools with greater challenges should get more money to surmount those challenges.
As ASU President Michael Crow said in the State of Latino Arizona report, “the success of Arizona’s Latino population is central to the future success of our state as a whole. Without a cohesive, comprehensive strategy to close the Latino education gap, and the abandonment of ill-conceived education funding strategies that disproportionately affect the Latino community, Arizona risks a future of stagnant average incomes, diminished purchasing power, greater unemployment and poverty, increased demand for public assistance and an uncompetitive economy.”