Arizona Spent Billions on Education with Only Mediocre improvement. We Can Do Better

An incremental approach has brought Arizona incremental improvements to education. That’s not good enough – and that’s why we need your help.

The majority of Arizona third graders cannot pass standardized reading tests.

According to 2019 AzMERIT testing data, the picture is worse for Hispanics (56% failing), African Americans (60%) and American Indians (72%).

Further alarming is that students of color are failing to meet baseline standards in both our high performing schools – that is, those with A and B grades – and our lower graded ones.

Sadly, these results are completely consistent with prior years, which should cause alarm for all who care about the future of our great state. We must level the playing field for educational attainment for all students in Arizona.

The clear inequity issues must be addressed.

Hispanics now represent the majority of elementary age students in Arizona. Over the next decade, they and all students should be advancing past high school and preparing for further education via college, technical training or some form of career entry program so they can find success and be full participants in Arizona’s workforce.

We know this to be true: students must “learn to read” by third grade in order to “read to learn” from that point further in school and in life. Put bluntly: each year we are failing tens of thousands of students by not ensuring they are prepared to learn beyond third grade. 

The Arizona Education Progress Meter, based on agreed upon metrics for student attainment among stakeholders, has a goal that 72% of our third-grade students be able to read at the necessary level to advance.

Setting aside the other 28% of students for a moment, the attainment of the goal from 2015 to 2020 moved from 41% to 46%. That’s 1% per year.

During that five-year span, billions of new dollars were invested in our education system yet yielded just a single point of annual improvement.

At that rate, we will not meet our 72% goal until 2047. This is unacceptable. Arizona must do better.

Over the decades, Arizona has had ambitious programs and funding for our education system. Some have survived, and others have not. But the further truth is that despite all good intentions and improvements, we still do not have a comprehensive and sustainable plan to address education needs in Arizona, nor one that will level the playing field for all students.

We have deployed resources and focus incrementally and sporadically. Not only do the students suffer, but Arizona taxpayers deserve to see a return on investment for their education tax dollars, not failure. 

We believe every child in Arizona should have access to a top-quality school that fits each student’s needs and interests. All students have the ability to learn, and our education system needs to improve most for students of color and students in poverty. The social factors related to attainment must be addressed along with COVID-19 setbacks.

Greater Phoenix Leadership, in partnership with other CEO and senior business leader organizations throughout the state, will soon commence an inclusive stakeholder engagement process to consider what changes are necessary to level the playing field and create a game plan for our education system in Arizona.

We will convene to identify, discuss and come to agreement regarding a plan for Arizona that addresses the critical areas of accountability, access, funding and innovation with a focus on equity.

We are aware this is not an easy assignment. Stakeholders from interest groups, education leadership, education advocates along with elected and appointed policy makers have spent many years in their own corners pushing for incremental advancements.

Some have advanced and been helpful. Others have not or have brought unintended consequences that have not helped to level the playing field.

We look forward to supporting the efforts of education experts and policy makers to develop a comprehensive and sustainable plan.

The time is now for all to come together to create a long-term plan to advance our education system in Arizona. The incremental improvement that has resulted from an incremental approach has not brought the level of attainment required for the future of our state.

We invite your greater understanding of what we have learned at and look forward to engaging on this most pressing topic facing the future of our great state of Arizona.

Michael Bidwill is the owner of the Arizona Cardinals and serves as the chairman of the board of Greater Phoenix Leadership. Share your thoughts at