Arizona must see that education system is in crisis
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 11, 2008

Our view: A new coalition is raising the alarm about failures in education, but must also focus on concrete solutions

Tucson, Arizona | Published:


The numbers are alarming as they're meant to be. Think about them as you read them:

● Arizona is 43rd among the states in the percentage of its high school graduates who go to college.

● Fewer than half of Arizona public high school graduates qualify to enroll in our public universities.

● Arizona ranks 49th in state and local per capita spending on K-12 education.

● Arizona ranks 35th in state and local spending per capita on higher education.

● Of 100 children in ninth grade, only 64 graduate from high school four years later; of those 64 only 18 enter a four-year college within a year and just nine earn a degree within four years.

Makes you wonder what the future holds, doesn't it?

Stats like these have prompted the Arizona Board of Regents to join with the Coalition for Solutions Through Higher Education, a group of business and community leaders, in a campaign to raise public awareness about the education crisis.

"We've got to make this a crisis. We're losing ground every day," said Regent Fred DuVal.

"The rest of the world is investing in early childhood education, elementary education and making significant commitments of public resources to higher education as our commitments have become stagnant and in many cases are going down," DuVal said.

Our generation is poised to be the first in American history to hand less opportunity to the next generation, he warned.

In some ways it's already happening. Here's another scary number: The median worker's earnings in Arizona is all-but unchanged since 1978, when adjusted for inflation. In '78, it was $37,004; in 2007, it was $37,447.

So far there are 75 companies and 280 individuals involved in the coalition, according to co-chair Sarah Smallhouse, president of the Thomas R. Brown Foundations and a board member of the University of Arizona Foundation.

The coalition has been taking a video and a slide show about the educational crisis to community groups around the state with the goal of preparing the ground so that public opinion will be primed to support reforms. Just when reforms will be proposed and what they eventually may be is unclear.

"At some point the conversation has to be, how do we restructure the financing of education in this state?" Smallhouse said.

For Arizona's public universities the solution will almost certainly need to be a dedicated revenue stream, DuVal said, but he is unclear on where that revenue might be drawn from.

The coalition's public awareness campaign is an excellent beginning. There's no question this crisis is real. Arizona underinvests in education at every level. It is unacceptable. It is shortsighted. It is a tremendous disservice to our children.

The price we will pay over time will be the economic lifeblood of our city and our state.

As Regent Fred Boice said, "Is this state going to deteriorate into a pure tourism, service state?" It could happen.

Public awareness is vital. But we hope the coalition's leaders also will identify, articulate and sell solutions, reforms that will bring our education system into the 21st century and enable our state, our community and our children to compete worldwide.