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Policy over pizza

Glenn Hamer

Glenn Hamer

The funding of Arizona’s schools in a way that commits to equity and excellence is one of the most important policy conversations taking place today. Largely due to education reforms Arizona has seen over the last 20 years, we now have some of the best public schools in the country.

The hard truth is that many of our high performing schools could not function today without outside parental and charitable dollars. Through our A for Arizona project, we have found that our very best low-income public schools are giving the state an average of six extra weeks of time every year for free. Their teachers are burning out and talent is flowing out to other states.

All of this means that we simply don’t have enough public funding in the system today to support access to an excellent education for every child.

Fortunately, the governor has a plan. Gov. Ducey has proposed injecting nearly $2 billion in additional funding over the next five years into the state’s public schools. He’s proposing to do this without compromising our economic competitiveness through higher taxes. It’s a smart, serious plan that is quickly gaining widespread support in both the education and business communities.

The leading critic of the governor’s proposal, State Treasurer DeWit, has put another option on the table: ”to get everyone in the same room, order a bunch of pizza, shut the doors and [not] come out until we have a solution.” As a New Yorker, I’m a sucker for a great slice, but the treasurer’s plan isn’t what we need to tackle one of the state’s most pressing public policy challenges. Our schools need our state leaders’ support, not a pizza party.

The treasurer’s technical criticism of Gov. Ducey’s plan is similarly unhelpful, as Bob Robb noted in his recent column. The most important technical detail the treasurer challenges is whether the distribution percentage to education can be changed without amending the federal law that formed the trust. It is surprising to see an elected Republican in Arizona pursue an argument that, if successful, would provide additional Washington oversight.

To help inform the debate around the technical details of the State Land Trust, the Arizona Chamber Foundation yesterday released a policy brief exploring the idea of using additional revenues from the State Land Trust for education. As noted in the brief, the federal enabling act that the treasurer references provides guidance that Arizona may not dip into the proceeds from land sales and royalties. Beyond that, how we proceed is a balancing act of good judgment with a healthy dose of buy-in from the beneficiaries. The governor’s proposal is legally sound under the existing enabling act. Let’s let Arizona voters decide the prudence of injecting more money into education without raising taxes.

The foundation brief also explains why modern fund managers have a more nuanced balance between preservation and appropriate income distribution. The prudence standard in investing is often described as acting as one would want others to act with your own money. Keeping it from you at all costs is not likely something you would expect from the keeper of your funds, particularly if the earnings have accumulated and the protected portion of the corpus is not in jeopardy. We do not need an Al Gore lockbox around the dollars when the fund is so robust and our schools are starving for funds.

Since taking office, the governor is smartly building on Arizona’s proud legacy of reform through the Arizona Public School Achievement District and Classroom’s First Council, on which the Arizona Chamber and our A for Arizona project serve as technical advisors. The governor is getting experts in the room to discuss the most complicated elements of education reform while pushing for more resources to support our public schools today.

We will continue to work with the governor and the Legislature for additional systemic reforms to ensure that every child has access to a high quality education. While this work goes forward, let’s unite and support referral of the governor’s proposal to the ballot and make the case for injecting additional resources to Arizona schools.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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