Don’t let K-12 education get caught in budget crossfire

Guest Opinion//June 26, 2009

Don’t let K-12 education get caught in budget crossfire

Guest Opinion//June 26, 2009

Our governor and our Legislature seem to be headed to a showdown at the O.K. Corral next Tuesday (June 30) over the budget. Hopefully, Arizona’s K-12 students won’t get caught in the crossfire. Continued cuts to education will only dim prospects for Arizona’s future leaders and all of today’s children who will contribute to our state’s economy.

Did you know that nationally, had the United States closed the achievement gap to better-performing nations like Korea and Finland, our gross domestic product (GDP) could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher in 2008 (the year the data was collected). Similarly, had the gap between black and Latino and white student performance been narrowed, the GDP in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher? These kinds of losses are the consequences of ignoring investment in education.

Arizona is behind the curve nationally for college preparedness – and further cuts to education will stifle the ability of our state to move toward a competitive economic future. According to a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2008, which measures Arizona’s current higher educational performance with the best-performing states on six key indicators, Arizona receives a “D” for preparation of high school students for college.

Our Legislature must work together with our governor to make decisions that will assure globally competitive K-12 public education long-term right here in Arizona. Our leaders must have the courage to tackle tax reform. The Arizona Business & Education Coalition (ABEC) has already undertaken the complexities of school finance reform. We’re examining the connection between funding and student learning; questioning whether or not Arizona has set credible and meaningful goals for students; exploring transparency in the system and weighing the degree of flexibility in the use of resources to focus and enable work of educators; engaging with local stakeholders and reinforcing the urgent need for the development of an accurate, real-time data collection and reporting system that provides the tools to evaluate relevant, meaningful goals.

ABEC acknowledges the need for a temporary tax increase to meet our growing state’s needs in this time of crisis. ABEC supports this; however, a temporary tax increase is a short-term solution. Let’s take advantage of this crisis to set a course for Arizona’s future. We support a resolution to the state’s budget crisis that supports the following principles:

• Fairness for all students and taxpayers.
• Sufficient resources to meet expectations for student achievement.
• Flexibility for districts and schools in the use of resources.
• Rewards for innovation and efficiencies.
• Transparency in all aspects of the system, including budget discussions and negotiations.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget is most aligned with these principles. However, ABEC is concerned that all parties come to an agreement on this difficult situation in a way that provides for the principles we have identified. We’ve heard the governor say she would not approve a budget that would cut the very element that will provide the foundation for economic development – education. We agree. We also know there are good friends of education among Republicans as well as Democrats. And we realize the choices they face are excruciatingly difficult. But our business and industry leaders must have an educated work force to be able to take advantage of a growing economy when it returns. Our students deserve to be prepared for their own futures; to take their places as educated citizens; to be able to enter the work force or higher education and be productive. We cannot limit their opportunities for success in the future.

The Arizona Business & Education Coalition (ABEC) is a 501(c)3 organization providing a balanced forum for business and education leaders to collaborate and improve K-12 education policy, with linkages to pre-kindergarten and postsecondary education. Guiding principles include: increasing public awareness about the relationship between Arizona’s future workforce and the quality of the K-12 system; actively and effectively influencing education policy; and sharing responsibility for the growth of student achievement in Arizona. For more information, visit www.azbec.org.

– Susan Carlson is executive director of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition.