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Please, lawmakers, make up your minds on education funding

A lot of news stories lately have focused on the proposed teacher layoffs and non-renewals in various Arizona school districts. The budget crisis has prompted the Legislature to reduce costs by cutting the budgets of just about all state-funded agencies.
Inasmuch as schools comprise the largest single block of the state budget, it’s understandable that the monetary adjustments can’t happen without affecting education.
However, as I look at the situation, two considerations come to mind.
The first is the frustration felt by those in the education community due to the fact that this whole process is seemingly interminable. Lawmakers have people across the state on tenterhooks waiting to see what they’re going to do, but they don’t seem to be able to do it. 
By statute, we’re supposed to know by April 15 whether we have jobs for the next year or not. This year, though, because the Legislature doesn’t plan on having their budget finalized until June — one representative flatly told a group of superintendents not to expect anything until just before midnight on June 30 — we have thousands of teachers whose personal lives have been thrown into turmoil because their districts can’t issue them contracts, because they have no budget guarantees, because lawmakers can’t get things done in a timely manner. There are lots of “becauses” in there, all lined up like dominoes waiting for the Legislature to push the first one over.
I realize that there are probably many reasons that I don’t know or understand for why the process is taking so long. But from the perspective of one who is waiting and watching lives get disrupted while lawmakers dither, it smacks strongly of dereliction of duty that you are waiting until June to do something that should have been done by April Fool’s Day.
My second thought came when I looked at the AIMS/TerraNova test results from Arizona’s students last year. They scored just a little above average, at the 51.9th percentile — 50 is average, calculated by scoring students nationwide who took this test. 
This doesn’t sound very impressive until you consider the fact that Arizona consistently spends fewer dollars per student than almost any other state. It’s as if we’ve only been paying for a Chevrolet, but we’re getting to drive a Cadillac. Of course, it would be nice to drive a Lamborghini, or a Rolls Royce, but some things just don’t happen on a Chevy budget.  The old adage, “You get what you pay for,” looks like it’s been tossed on its ear.
I worry, because Arizona’s miracle-working educators have been keeping that old Chevy/Caddy hybrid running so well for so long on so little money, that they might be expected to just keep right on keeping on with even less.
Likewise, if we have to make do with that much less in the schools, our students will see many programs scaled back or eliminated, opportunities more severely rationed and less personal interaction with their teachers because of increased class sizes. Can a personally motivated and dedicated student still get a quality education under those circumstances? Of course. Will as many do so? Don’t bet on it.
My purposes with this letter are to let lawmakers know that their decisions are going to have some definite consequences in the real world when they impact schools. So it’s critical to consider options carefully and be prepared for less-than-impressive results if you come up with a less-than-impressive education budget.
The other reason for writing is to ask lawmakers to please make up your minds already.
— Shon Flake is principal of Snowflake Intermediate School.

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