Public wants budget surplus spent on education
Arizona Republic
Jun. 2, 2006

Pity our state legislators. In the best of times, they have a tough job.
They must deal with different philosophies about the role of government, reconcile conflicting claims to state revenues and negotiate with governors who have their own agendas and budget priorities.

Once in a while, however, we, the voters of Arizona, cut them some slack.
That happens when we come together around some important policy issue and the policy solutions to address it. We have done it again this year.

Poll after poll has shown that a majority of Arizona voters want the state to invest a large share of the current budget surplus in education. This year, our legislators have the means to increase funding for English-language learners instruction, raise teacher salaries, and expand the voluntary all-day kindergarten program that provides learning opportunities for children and peace of mind for working parents. And our legislators can also make a down payment on a state financial aid program that will help low and middle-income students pay for college.

Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposed budget shows that she is indeed listening to Arizona voters in these matters. But what about the majority in our state Legislature? The legislative budget proposal cuts in half, from $210 million to $105 million, the recommended increase in K-12 appropriations and provides no funding for a state financial aid program. What part of the voters' message - "Invest in the future of Arizona" - do our legislators not understand?

Their proposed budget, legislative leaders tell us, gives school districts the freedom to choose between funding pay raises for teachers and expanding all-day kindergarten. Some freedom! Most school districts, certainly those in low-income communities, need to do both, and the sooner the better.
Financial incentives, particularly if they are linked appropriately to student achievement, work to attract and retain talented teachers. Voluntary all-day kindergarten resonates with voters because it provides for low- and middle-income children the same enriched learning opportunities and safe environments that have always been available to upper-income children.

It is not too late for our state legislators to do the right thing. Listen to the voters' clear message and get behind the governor's proposed education funding package. The necessary revenues are available and we, the voters, are watching.

Clara M. Lovett, president emeritus of Northern Arizona University, serves on the advisory board of the Project for Arizona's Future.