At war with education
Jan. 29, 2006
The English-learner duel is just the latest in the Legislature's vendetta
Last week, the planet's leading decision-makers were gathered in Davos,
Switzerland, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. In Arizona,
legislators were trying to weasel out of complying with a court order that, at
its heart, is about quality education for all children.
The juxtaposition was telling. While the Legislature was looking to the future
through a rearview mirror, people who preside over wealth creation in the global
economy were doing business without Arizona.
It's not unusual to find leaders from American states, even governors, in Davos
seeking capital and jobs. Our governor had more urgent business:
preventing the Legislature from setting Arizona even further behind in the
global race. It's impossible to know all the grudges, hidden agendas and
prejudices involved in last week's battle. The fetish to provide tax credits for
somebody's private schools should only raise suspicions.
In the end, the Legislature came off as mean and deeply unserious. Its bills
were nothing short of shameful. Now, I finally understand the values of these
A federal judge ordered Arizona to substantially improve its funding for the
150,000 children here who are struggling to learn English. Whatever the
complicated issues of the immigration debate, their parents are as critical to
the Arizona economy as sun and house builders. If we leave these children to
sink, Arizona will see the rise of a dangerous underclass and lose the human
capital of these young souls.
The lawsuit, Flores vs. Arizona, came about because of the same kind of
malpractice by the Legislature that we saw on display last week.
The real issue is a sustained war by extremist lawmakers on public education.
Bogus "school choice" and other questionable experiments have been no substitute
While dismissing advocates of public schools as "liberals" or "socialists,"
extremist legislators wrecked Arizona education. It's all the more shocking
considering that most baby-boomer voters were the beneficiaries of quality
public schools (as I was at Kenilworth School in central Phoenix).
It doesn't matter if a few White suburban schools do OK now. Somebody is going
to attend our worst performing public schools, so they had better be pretty
good, too. Alas, poor districts have borne the brunt of this vendetta.
If all the shortchanged Arizona students, including Anglos, had the same
standing as the Flores plaintiffs, the state would face a reckoning that would
make this suit look like a parking ticket.
Their grievances are real. Poor schools are a major reason behind the state's
low incomes, mediocre jobs, limited economy, and the rising gap between haves
and have-nots. New research by the Economic Policy Institute and Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities puts Arizona worst in the nation for income
As Davos exemplifies, we live in a rapidly globalizing world where education is
the ticket to individual and national prosperity, especially for the older,
Real wealth is being built by knowledge and discovery, not cheap and docile
workers. It's a lesson borne out from Ireland and Singapore to China's feverish
push to improve education and build universities.
There's nothing complicated about improving Arizona education. Quality costs
money, and we're getting nowhere being second-from-last in student funding.
Businesses making decisions about where their top talent and capital go
certainly notice this. So there's no way out of making the investments we should
have been making all along.
But investments pay off. For Arizona, it would mean the workforce and innovators
to leapfrog beyond our unsustainable dependence on call centers, housing
construction, tourism and retirement.
Instead of an absurd tragedy at the Capitol, imagine an Arizona that becomes a
leader in 21st-century education. Bill Gates, among others, argues that high
schools should be completely revamped.
Meanwhile, countries around the world are struggling with how to give
low-skilled immigrants access to the mainstream. Why can't Arizona provide the
The only impediments are those who control the Legislature. That can change,
when voters wake up and elect sensible centrists of both parties.
Reach Talton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Talton's daily blog at