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Time to start on pragmatic solution to education funding

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For many years, Arizona voters have sent a clear message – they want a pragmatic, long-term solution for education funding.

There is some good news: Gov. Doug Ducey’s “20×2020” teacher pay plan and his budget, which includes meaningful investments for school construction, guidance counselors, career and technical education, and other important items. They are significant for Arizona’s future.

Now is the time to leverage that momentum to ensure our students thrive from preschool through graduate school – and every step in between. Unfortunately, our political history shows these investments can easily be wiped out during the next economic downturn. We cannot let that happen anymore. 

Arizona needs a reliable education funding source that can withstand volatile shifts in the economy and changing political winds. Creating and sustaining a talented workforce requires a strategic, lasting investment in our education system. 

That’s why a group of nonpartisan community leaders – job creators, educators, university and community college officials and nonprofit executives – has met for several months. We worked with prominent Arizona economists from across the political spectrum to find the most equitable funding sources that will have the most positive impact on our education system with the least amount of disruption. Our coalition knows there is no magic wand, but we also know our state needs a long-term funding stream that ensures every student is prepared for a 21st century economy. 

Our coalition is working from these core pillars: 

We believe that any funding priorities must strategically invest taxpayer dollars in teachers and students – focused on populations that have the greatest need. More specifically, they must align with the state’s Education Progress Meter and Achieve60AZ attainment goals, while meeting Arizona’s workforce objectives.

In a global marketplace, every student must have access to a high-quality system that covers preschool through graduate school (P-20). Arizona students must be well-prepared to enter the workforce – regardless of their zip code.

Here are areas where a long-term funding source must focus:

Expanding access to high-quality, pre-K early education for children of low-income families

Increasing teacher retention and recruitment by continuing to improve salaries for leaders in our classrooms

Strengthening career training and dual enrollment programs at the community college level. We must find a path for universities to have a meaningful funding model or a statewide financial aid system

Our coalition is taking a data-driven approach to find viable revenue sources. Instead of beginning with predetermined fixes, we are working with three top economists to analyze our state’s tax code and find a combination of potential reforms that puts more dollars into education without harming families or businesses. Any option must provide a consistent revenue stream and avoid the piecemeal approach that has failed our state in the past. 

Our blueprint, though still taking shape, advocates for consideration of generating an additional $1.5 billion annually through a combination of property and sales taxes. This was the result of much dialogue between our three economists and our coalition. Structuring the plan in this way will both protect and enhance Arizona’s economy and create a stable revenue source for our education system.

The voters have made their values clear, and we intend to create a pragmatic solution that earns support across Arizona – regardless of background, zip code or party affiliation.

We hope this column kick-starts a statewide conversation about a sustainable funding source for education that powers a diversified economy for generations to come. 

Jim Swanson, president/CEO, Kitchell Corporation; Chris Camacho, president and CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council; Paul J. Luna, president and CEO, Helios Education Foundation; Colleen Smith, president, Coconino Community College; Mark Joraanstad, executive director, Arizona School Administrators; and Ted Maxwell, Maj Gen (USAF, Ret.) president and CEO, Southern Arizona Leadership Council, comprise the Community Leaders Group. 

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