Dear valued teachers and school staff,
I know that many of you are filled with anxiety about the state of Arizona’s economy and the recent budget cuts. I share your concerns, not only as your representative, but as a parent of five children who attend public schools.
My family and I have had wonderful relationships with many of you. You have enriched our lives and we value your opinions. I appreciate those of you who have expressed your concerns to me in the past.
Right now, there is a state of panic in the schools, and I would like to address some of your concerns and hopefully give you some measure of reassurance.
Four-Day School Week
One of the circulating rumors has to do with a possible four-day school week. I do not know where that idea originated, but it was never discussed in the Legislature, or in meetings of the Education Committee of which I am a member. I have spoken with Gilbert District administrators and they heartily agreed that the rumor is not true and did not originate at the district level.
With regard to all-day kindergarten, the Legislature has not addressed it at all up to this point. Obviously, there will be no change for the budget year ending July 1, 2009. The Legislature did discontinue funding for the early-kindergarten program, which begins at age four. Statistics overwhelmingly show that it is not beneficial for most children at that young age, and kindergarten is often repeated.
There is a popular opinion that raising taxes is the answer to all of our budget problems. Raising taxes in the worst economy that we have had since the Depression is not a viable option. Increasing taxes makes the economy worse, particularly when the unemployment rate is high and people are spending less.
Throughout the 2008-09 budget process, I personally met with several school superintendents across the state. All of them indicated that the budget reductions that legislators were making were tolerable and would not result in layoffs or lack of supplies in their districts. Gilbert Unified School District has implemented freezes on new hiring and capital expenditures. The state’s reduction to the K-12 budget for this year was approximately 1.7 percent. When you consider the total funding stream, the reduction was less than 1 percent and it was done in a lump-sum manner, allowing the local schools the flexibility to set their individual program priorities. It wasn’t anything approaching the gloom-and-doom scenario presented by the media and AEA. School district representatives were included in the budget process and reductions were made based on their suggestions.
Community College Cuts
You have probably read information that community colleges were gutted as well. In actuality, the budget cuts were approximately 10 percent. This sounds like a very large number, but consider that community colleges are funded 65 percent from property taxes, 25 percent from tuition/registration fees, and 10 percent from the state. Now, factor in that the state portion was cut by 10 percent. As you can see, state funding was reduced by 10 percent of 10 percent, which amounts to a 1 percent reduction. The community colleges are not closing and programs are unlikely to be eliminated as a result of these state budget reductions.
We had a large number of students protesting at the Capitol because they believed university funding was being cut by 40 percent. I have never once heard anyone discuss a cut to the university system in excess of 12 percent. Incidentally, ASU President Michael Crow and other university presidents were involved in budget discussions before any decisions were made. They knew the facts first-hand, and in some cases, they chose to spread misinformation.
2009-10 Budget Year
It is premature to comment on the 2010 budget year, which runs from July 1, 2009, to July 1, 2010. We are anticipating the receipt of some amount of funding from the federal government for education. My personal belief is that budget cuts in 2010 will be no more overwhelming than the 2009 cuts. The dire predictions are more likely to become reality in 2011 or 2012, if ever.
I received a newsletter from AEA today. It indicated that Arizona is 49th in terms of per-capita spending on education. Most states do not separate building costs from classroom and operating costs. If we add those costs into the picture before making the comparisons, we are in the middle. Surely, the union officials are aware of this fact.
I could continue on and on. I believe the media and unions should be penalized for spreading false information and creating panic. I understand their goal is to encourage people to become involved. While I truly believe that people should be knowledgeable and active in their government’s decisions, problems occur when people read misinformation as truth. If you do belong to a union, please take the time to investigate its views and where your dues go. It is in your best interest to know how it represents you.
I hope you will receive some comfort in the fact that the people you elected to make these decisions are just like you. We have families and children and values similar to yours. Regardless of which party you belong to, we all want quality education for our children. I wish that we had unlimited funds to pour into the classroom. I wish that we did not have the budget woes that we currently have. As lawmakers, we can’t perform magic, but please know that we take all of the information available and make the best decisions we can.
I value your opinions as educators and I would like to know if you have additional concerns.
— Rep. Laurin Hendrix is a Republican lawmaker from Gilbert who represents District 22 in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Rep. Hendrix takes on rumors, media reports regarding schools funding
Dear valued teachers and school staff,