Legislators lack creativity in bolstering education
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 11, 2009




Guest Opinion

By David Sadker

Special to the Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/279623

So here we are again, cutting a state budget that even in good times has fallen far short of meeting the educational needs of our children. After all, who can feel good about being 49th in education spending, and shooting for 50th? I don't, so I decided to investigate how other states approach their education budget.

Last month, Education Week ranked Maryland's schools No. 1 in an analysis of such factors as high school graduation rates, student achievement, academic standards and accountability.

What are they doing in Maryland to be No. 1 while Arizona trails the pack?

In 2002, Maryland approached its education budget with an eye toward what it wanted to achieve. The state appointed a commission to define expectations for a sound education. The commission set goals for attendance, graduation rates and academic achievement. Then the commission computed the cost to achieve such goals, about $2 billion.

Rather than simply distribute the funds it had on hand and tell teachers and students to do the best they can, Maryland analyzed how much money was needed to create a quality education and went about raising it. Maryland decided to invest in its future.

Much of the funding came from raising cigarette and tobacco taxes. By 2008, the reported per-student expenditures increased by more than $2,438 and the average per-pupil cost was more than $10,000. Highly qualified teachers were recruited, teacher salaries raised, additional instructional materials purchased and class sizes reduced.

The results of Maryland's "The Bridge to Excellence Act" are now in. A study just released by independent educational evaluators reports that the state's students have made striking gains these past five years in both reading and math. Not that the work is done. Maryland still needs to close gaps between some groups and improve its programs for beginning teachers, but Maryland's actions to date have proved a model for those states willing to follow.

The lesson for Arizona could not be more clear. The governor and legislators can do far more than express their regrets and plead their powerlessness as they cut funds for Arizona's future. They can ask: What would it take to do a first-class job of educating our children, and what funds can be found to build a brighter future? How would the quality and health of all our lives be improved if we set state goals for education, and actually funded those goals?

While initial expenditures would rise, I wonder how much the state would save in the long run on medical costs, unemployment, law enforcement and other expenses. Why aren't we planning to create a 21st century Arizona we can all take pride in, rather than watch our state fall further behind the rest of the nation?

What is so sad about our current situation is not only our economic hard times, but the lack of new ideas to deal with these challenges. Our state is short on finances, but in terms of constructive policies to create a brighter future, it feels totally bankrupt.

Write to David Sadker at dsadker@gmail.com