When will students really win?

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Copper Area News

This Summer a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge ruled in the favor of Arizona students, and as quickly as our school districts won that judgement, legislative leaders filed an appeal. Just like that, the fate of $317 million technically owed to our students, is held up by the appeals process. Kind of sounds as if our legislative leaders and the governor have sentenced funding Arizona’s students to death row.

How did the state end up owing this money to the schools? It’s quite simple, when the “Great Recession” hit Arizona in 2007, the Legislature decided that massive cuts needed to be made across the board, not just education, but everything from social services, tourism, and infrastructure, the list goes on and on of what was cut. These leaders nipped and tucked the state budget to rebuild a rainy day surplus and of course balance the budget, the budget balanced on a basis of fiscal conservatism. The difference in the slashing of the education funding was that Arizona voters approved proposition 301 which guaranteed that per pupil funding would increase with inflation, when that voter approved mandate was not honored by the legislature and governor the bill added up to the tune of $317 million dollars, not exactly chump change, by any means. It’s fair to say that in reality the funds were not there, the state was not receiving the revenues needed to fund everything and just like our own family bank accounts, the state can only use as much as they receive in revenue. The fact still remains that the voters of Arizona put funding education as a priority, one that was ignored by our leaders.

Per pupil funding prior to the “Great Recession” was $3,776 per student, regardless of the size of the district or its location, not to bad, right? If things would of went as planned with the inflationary increase our schools may have started to see some breathing room in their budgets, but with the slashing of the budgets schools today only receive $3,376 per student, that is $400 less now than it was in 2006. Yet our leaders continue to wonder why Arizona consistently ranks as one of the worst places for kids to grow up in.

This column wasn’t written to bash any one political party or politician, but just a reminder, there is a few elections coming up. It was not written to persuade you that throwing money at a problem will fix it, we all know that does not necessarily work in any situation. I do hope it called your attention to the fact that the real crisis we will be facing soon is the lack of young adults and families in Arizona. While we are still raising kids in Arizona, as soon as they can grow up and leave they are gone, why? They are leaving because we lack jobs and opportunity, we lack an environment to raise the next generation of Arizonans. What company would really want to invest in Arizona when they know we are not investing in the infrastructure of the future, which is our children.

While districts across the state still have local control of their budgets, the reality is many of the mandates and expectations are not funded adequately and our schools, make do with what they have. If there is one sector of employees that truly know how to do more with less it is those that have committed their life to education. Teachers double up on subjects taught, programs are cut, administrators cover multiple roles, they make it work despite the politics at the local, state and federal levels. We can only put a bandage on this situation for so long before we as a state must step up to the plate and really develop a broad plan to fund education pre-K through the university level that will give us a qualified workforce that will in itself attract a the jobs and economy we want. Ultimately the only way our students will win is when we take a hard look at how education is funded and when we commit that an educated work force is what will rebuild Arizona’s economy so we can have the educational system our students deserve.

At press time it was still undetermined if or when the schools will begin to receive the funds that are owed to them. Governor Brewer has commented that paying these funds out will our public safety systems will be at great risk.

Mila Besich-Lira (68 Posts)

Mila Besich-Lira is a resident of Superior with two children. She volunteers for many local organizations. She is an experienced fundraiser and event planner for Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition. She covers some of the area town councils and schools.

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