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Study: White Arizona School Districts Get More Funding Than Non-White Districts

Nationwide and in Arizona, predominantly white school districts get more money per student than non-white districts.

That’s the finding in a new report from EdBuild, a nonprofit studying education funding, but local experts question the report’s methodology.

EdBuild highlights a $23 billion gap in funding between mostly non-white and white school districts.

“Even after decades of school finance litigation meant to equalize the playing field, and even after accounting for wealth disparities, the wrenching reality endures — the United States still invests significantly more money to educate children in white communities,” the group writes in the report.

The study defines white districts as those with 75 percent or more white students and vice versa for non-white districts.

In Arizona, schools that serve mostly non-white students get 46 percent fewer dollars than mostly white schools — it’s a $7,613 difference.

The Arizona Department of Education is reviewing the study.

"Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman ran on a campaign of providing equity and access to a high-quality education for all students. As a former educator, it was one of her chief concerns coming into office," said Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat in an email.

EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia says a significant chunk of school funding relies on local taxes, which is part of the problem.

“There is actually a disparity in the tax bases between some white and non-white school districts that’s really driving how a lot of money is being raised,” Sibilia said.

Ed Build found the gap widens in districts where more than 20 percent of students live in poverty.

“Low property wealth districts have a harder effort raising local dollars than with high property values,” said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations at the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

But Essigs contends the dollar figures in the EdBuild study are “way too high,” because small school districts that serve anywhere from one, to a few dozen or a hundred students often spend money more per student.

“Their spending ends up being quite high and they’re being given the same weight, so to speak, in calculating the state average as are the larger school districts in this state,” Essigs said.

Many of the mostly white districts identified in Arizona are also small, rural districts while those with predominantly non-white students are in larger, urban districts.

“The comparison groups are like oranges and apples,” said Margarita Pivovarova, ASU Teachers College assistant professor. “We really can’t compare, not in terms of size, not in terms of location.”

Pivovarova and her Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College colleague Jeanne Powers briefly reviewed the study at KJZZ’s request.

“I think it’s an important question, but I think we have to be really careful about making comparisons,” Powers said.

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Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.