Public wants budget surplus spent on education
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
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
Clara M. Lovett, president emeritus of Northern Arizona University, serves on
the advisory board of the Project for Arizona's Future.