Bad stats about more than just meanie legislators

The Arizona Republic
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Robert Robb

As is often the case, the Arizona Tax Research Association offers some useful perspective with a special report on school spending.

A recent Census Bureau study that had Arizona ranked 48th among the states in K-12 per-pupil spending had the tongues a-clucking.

ATRA took a look at how the states compared based upon their taxing capacity. In terms of state personal income per student, Arizona ranked 45th. If we have less personal income per student, it shouldn't be surprising that we'd end up with less spending per student.

However, ATRA discovered an interesting correlation. States with the highest student growth tended to rank relatively low on per-pupil spending. That makes sense. Growing states will be filling out classrooms and hiring younger teachers.

Although focused on school spending, the report also provides some useful perspective for our economic Eeyores. Arizona ranks near the bottom of the states on per capita income. But that's not because our economy stinks or we have lousy jobs. It's because a smaller proportion of our population is in the workforce.

Arizona ranks 48th among the states in the percentage of our population between the ages of 18 and 64. Colorado, which is in vogue these days as one of our supposed betters, is second. Simply put, we have more retirees and kids in school than Colorado.

I don't want to be misunderstood. I believe Arizona schools are underfunded and would support a tax increase to remedy it.

But much of the tongue-clucking is ill-informed. There's more behind these statistics than just meanies at the Legislature.