Take that, Louisiana.
Oh, and New Mexico.
Both have slightly worse public school systems than Arizona, according to a national study posted this week on the Wallet Hub website (https://wallethub.com/edu/e/states-with-the-best-schools/5335).
Of course, that means every other state in the U.S. scored better than Arizona, which ranked 49th out of 51, if you include the District of Columbia.
The ratings don’t consider the most recent state budget, which featured a 50,000-student enrollment decline, a new billion-dollar income tax cut and few major initiatives — despite billions in federal aid earmarked for education.
Wallet Hub noted that this year’s report (2021’s States with the Best & Worst School Systems, as well as accompanying videos) follows a year in which at least half of teachers nationwide report their students suffered significant learning losses in the pandemic.
Supporters of Arizona’s big income tax cut said low taxes would attract new businesses to Arizona. However, economic development experts say low rankings for public schools could create problems in attracting newcomers.
The Wallet Hub study compared 50 states and the District of Columbia on 32 measurements, including test scores and dropout rates.
Arizona ranked 34th in school safety, but 49th when it came to school quality. The state fared poorly on a host of measurements, including:
• 31st — Math Test Scores
• 39th — Reading Test Scores
• 51st — Pupil-Teacher Ratio
• 18th — Median SAT Score
• 40th — Median ACT Score
• 48th — % of Licensed/Certified Public K-12 Teachers
• 49th — Dropout Rate
• 16th — Bullying Incidence Rate
• 33rd — Existence of Digital Learning Plan
The study included comments from several experts.
Christopher Meidl, a professor at Duquesne University, said the national rankings shows a strong relationship between per-student spending levels and overall school quality.
“More money leads to greater opportunities and greater achievement,” he said. One of the greatest predictors of learning is the training of the teacher.
“Affluent areas pay well, with good benefits and have smaller class sizes on average. That means teachers can assess more accurately and teach to the individual needs of their students.”
Despite recent increases in teacher pay, Arizona still ranks near the bottom nationally and the worst in the nation in average class size.
Frances Marie Gibson, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, observed, “I found that a natural way of looking at your education system is through the C’s of community, creativity, caring, connectivity, and competency. With such C’s find out how the school is the heart of the community. Ask questions such as, do they innovate and create programs that meet the aspirational needs of their learners? Do they create a culture of caring and a system of social-emotional supports for both student and adult learners? Do they have a system that develops and encourages continuous improvement with an all means all mindset?”
Teresa Coffman, a University of Mary Washington professor, said, “The following five key indicators tend to be used most often when considering a school system’s performance: student academic achievement; instructional quality; school climate; graduation and attendance rates; and satisfaction of teachers, administrators, staff, caregivers, and students.”
The Arizona Action Alliance noted that the state’s billion-dollar income tax cut all but gutted a voter-approved income tax surcharge on people making more than $250,000.
“Arizona legislators had a unique opportunity this session,” said an assessment by the children’s advocacy group. The projected $1 billion state deficit instead turned into a $1 billion surplus in extra, ongoing money and a one-time $3 billion windfall, mostly from federal pandemic grants.
Arizona currently spends about $10,000 per student from all sources, compared to a national average of about $16,000. Back in the 1980s, state spending was about average — but Arizona gradually began falling behind in the 1990s. The shortfall accelerated during the 2008 recession, with billions in education cuts not yet fully restored.