Goldwater President Victor Riches Explains the Facts on School Funding

With Arizona’s illegal teacher strike a few weeks in the rearview mirror—and the resulting $500 million in new spending to K-12 education—we’re left with an important question: Will all this new spending on education result in better outcomes for students?

Goldwater Institute President and CEO Victor Riches addressed that question on The Seth and Chris Show, where he discussed the links between funding and performance (or lack thereof), and reforms in Arizona that have produced real results for education.

You can listen online here, and check out some excerpts from the interview below:

The truth is, Arizona is not underfunding K-12 education, despite claims to the contrary.

“When you look at our total K-12 ed funding in this state, we’re spending 45% of the state’s general fund to K-12 funding. And the total K-12 funding, when you include the federal dollars, and the bonds and overrides — and I do want to stress, that those are not free dollars, those are Arizona taxpayer dollars, as well — when you look at the total funding, we’re looking at $10B going to K-12 to service a little over a million students. So the notion that somehow that is an underfunding of K-12 education just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.”

There’s no link between education funding and performance.

“When you look at our NAEP scores [a national test measuring state education performance], the truth is, Arizona’s scores have increased dramatically over the last ten years. And compared to the rest of the country, we’re basically right about at the average, and in some areas we’re even leading most of the states. When you look at our actual performance, we’re doing pretty well. But there has never been any study that indicates that the dollars put in equals a positive outcome coming out. And in fact, we’ve seen plenty of examples of areas that spend a lot of money on K-12 funding that simply are not having positive outcomes.

“The statistics just simply don’t bear out this notion that the answer to education is simply spending more money, especially unencumbered dollars that have no reforms attached to them.”

School choice provides better results.

“I’m a big believer that the more options you have, the more competition you have, that really does rise all boats. In the world of public education, there is this fear of additional school choice, but we’ve seen better performance out of traditional public schools as school choice has grown in this state.

“We’ve seen over the last five or ten years all sorts of technological advances everywhere in society where businesses, individuals, households, people are able to do more and more with less. And the one area where that is not the case is of course government, where they’re actually doing less with more. And in the K-12 world, there really is that mentality, where there can never be enough money.

“The reality is, we need to move this discussion away from the total dollars spent on education, and instead focus on the total outcome that we’re seeing in Arizona. And the truth is, our outcomes are getting better and better. Like I said, we really are on par with the national average right now when it comes to reading and mathematics, and those are the things that are really important.”

Arizona is a school choice leader, and it has never hurt traditional education in the state.

“Arizona has been a leader in the school choice movement for a number of years. We were the first state to aggressively adopt charter schools. In fact right now, 17 percent of our public school students attend charter schools. And if you were to factor in students attending private schools and home schools, the number is closer to 25 percent.

“If you look at issues we have done for open enrollment in this state, which simply means that students can go to a school other than the one that’s closest to their home, in places like Phoenix and Tucson, more than 50 percent of parents are taking advantage of that. And so Arizona has unquestionably been a leader for school choice. It’s been phenomenal for this state, in terms of providing different educational opportunities that are better tailor made to individual students. There’s a certain element — I’d look at them as sort of the extreme element of the traditional education community — that bemoans school choice, but the reality is having these additional options for parents can only help students. And the truth is, it’s never hurt traditional education in this state.”