The population in Arizona and Pinal County is growing, making the state a much larger force than it was in earlier times. Meanwhile, some areas are shrinking, at least in the number of students in school. That is creating a challenge for those responsible for operating schools in those areas, even as the state increases its funding for education.
A report in The Arizona Republic found that 10 of the state’s 15 counties have lost a combined total of more than 10,000 students in the last decade. It’s no surprise that those counties include many of Arizona’s rural areas. Meanwhile, Maricopa County’s district and charter schools have gained more than 70,000 students during the same period.
Much of the issue is rooted in the fact that people are moving to urban areas to find jobs. Also, some of the desirable tourist areas, such as Sedona, now have a higher cost of living than in the past, and families find it harder to live there. The students who are left have fewer classmates and the schools still must try to provide the same services.
The growth of charter schools has meant the exodus of some top students from traditional district schools. That, combined with demographic changes, has meant a loss of students in Casa Grande’s elementary school district and elsewhere. The effect in more rural areas is more severe: Closure of a school could mean students traveling long distances to attend classes.
Arizona has made a serious effort to upgrade funding to education. That should continue, and so should efforts to equalize the footing of charter and district schools. That means parents have a choice without having one type of school gain an unfair advantage.
In its earliest days, Arizona had a challenge of providing education in a very rural setting. That challenge continues today in many areas, but the state certainly can rise to meet it.