Students protest cuts
Arizona Republic
April 30, 2008


Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - April 30, 2008

Author: Scott Wong, The Arizona Republic

Bringing song, dance and a burst of color to the state Capitol, hundreds of students, teachers and parents rallied Tuesday, urging Gov. Janet Napolitano and lawmakers to spare their distance-learning schools from budget cuts.

The rally typified many Arizonans' uncertainty over the state's 2009 budget predicament. Nobody knows the extent of the cuts the schools might face as lawmakers try to offset a $1.9 billion deficit for the coming year. So far, legislative leaders have provided no specifics as to which programs they plan to trim.

But the students, teachers and parents weren't waiting until more facts become known.

Possible cuts could compound severe reductions to the online schools recently outlined by the state Education Department, said Ron Neil, superintendent of Mesa's Sequoia Choice Distance Learning. That could threaten to put some schools out of business, hampering their ability to help at-risk students who have been dropping out of traditional public schools at rapid rates, he said.

More than 20,000 students attend distance-learning schools in Arizona.

"Forty percent of students in America today are falling through the cracks," Neil said. "These are good kids, but something has happened in their life. They discovered on their own that there is a way to get back on the train, to get back on the track, and distance learning provides that."

Sporting red, blue, orange and yellow T-shirts, students from 14 distance-learning schools performed high-energy dance routines, sang musical numbers from Annie and Les Miserables and chanted "save our schools" in front of the Capitol. The schools use technology-assisted methods, such as online classrooms and tutoring, electronic field trips and group chat sessions.

Kathlyn James, a 10th-grader at Learning Crossroads Basic Academy, said before she transferred to the Mesa school she was bored, wasn't being challenged by her teachers and was failing her classes. Now, the sprightly 16-year-old takes courses on the computer at her own pace, doing extra work at home if she's "on a roll."

"When I'm in my class, my teachers are directly focused on me," she said. "I get the help that I need when I need it."

Online schools aren't the only stakeholders voicing fears about fiscal 2009 budget cuts. Arizona State University President Michael Crow last week warned that the university may have to limit enrollment by about 6,000 students if lawmakers slash the school's budget by 10 percent. It remains uncertain what cuts ASU and other universities will face.

State Rep. John McComish of Phoenix, who joined his fellow Republicans, House Majority Leader Tom Boone and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne , in addressing the crowd, said the Capitol rally would help educate lawmakers who may not be familiar with such online programs.

Horne , a possible gubernatorial candidate, said distance learning is one component of using technology to better Arizona's education system.

"Every industry has used technology to increase its efficiency, and education has fallen behind," Horne said. "I'm (confident) that Arizona will be on the cutting edge of having education catch up and having education improve the delivery of education."

Edition: Final Chaser
Section: VALLEY & State
Page: B1
Dateline: AZ
Record Number: pho101626654