Based on the first week of the legislative session it appears the governor and legislators have been listening to voters when it comes to funding public education. The initial steps presented in the governor’s budget and HB2158, sponsored by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, and Sen. Kate Brophy-McGee, R-Phoenix, start to address funding issues with public education. Although these first steps are appreciated, there is still a long way to go. The multiple step solution to the problem of funding public education is critical for schools and the state’s economy.
The proposal by the governor for additional money to public education is welcomed. However, 10 years of neglect in funding can’t be solved just by the governor’s proposed budget. This is particularly true regarding the $100 million in District Additional Assistance funding. Schools have been shorted over $2 billion in funding for needed capital improvements, repairs and maintenance for the past 10 years. The $100 million, while appreciated, will not solve building issues neglected for the past decade. The capital lawsuit by education groups must continue and the Legislature must be held accountable for ignoring the court decision regarding the funding of public education.
HB2158 is a sensible solution for Proposition 301. This solution moves school districts away from a fiscal cliff in 2021, is not a new tax and preserves a critical funding source for teacher salaries. Proposition 301 provides up to $6,000 for teachers throughout the state. This again is just a critical first step.
The next step is the need for an initiative in 2020 that will create a dedicated funding source for education and will address critical issues in public education. Many of these educational reforms have been championed by the governor, other politicians, business leaders, the media and education groups and education advocates. This initiative can address issues like all-day kindergarten, teacher salaries, capital funding, and workforce development.
Why are these initial steps and future steps so critical for not only schools, but just as important for the state’s economy? Public education makes up approximately 40 percent of the state budget ($4 billion of a $10 billion budget). Since local school districts are one of the largest, if not the largest, employer in all communities throughout the state, money for public education is critical in fueling our economy. Schools are a people profession and a significant portion of the budget goes to pay for salaries and benefits of employees. This money remains in Arizona and is cycled back through the state’s economy.
In addition, school districts support a host of other industries including, but not limited to, health care, construction, utilities, and local businesses. Our students make up a significant portion of the workforce for entry level positions. All this is accomplished while public education continues to educate the workforce for the next generation.
These initial steps to properly fund public education must be approved by the Legislature and then the next steps must be supported to ensure that public education is adequately funded. Public education is a major economic engine in the state. This engine has been starved for too long. The economy is the major political issue at the federal and state level. Given the importance of public education in the state’s economy, continuing to not adequately fund the public education economic engine does not make sense. Our politicians, business leaders and media need to pay attention to the powerful impact of public education on the state’s economy and make sure that everything is done to support this economic driver, just like other important economic engines in the state.
— Greg Wyman is the superintendent in the Payson Unified School District and an Arizona educator for the past 32 years.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.