As a state representative of Legislative District 4, I represent over 35 school districts in six counties. Many of these school districts are small and are located in rural areas of the state. Together, however, they educate a large number of our state's children.
When Students First was originally considered by the Legislature in 1998, I expressed my concern that the program would not adequately address the special needs of our rural districts. Many of these districts' schools are old; while they have faithfully served generations of the community, they are not easily upgraded to meet the technological demands of today's learning environment.
The local communities served by these districts do not have the resources to build, renovate and equip facilities like their urban counterparts do. Worse, many of these districts have little growth, thereby precluding the chance they will qualify for new school construction funds from the state. That means these schools will rely heavily on building renewal and deficiencies correction monies to have any hope of providing a safe, effective learning environment for their students.
I plan to work to ensure that the building renewal formula is fully funded as promised, but as you know, the basis for awarding deficiencies correction monies hinges on the minimum facilities standards currently under development by the State School Facilities Board. I ultimately voted for the Students First Plan believing that the standards would be designed so that the educational needs of all children would be met regardless of where they live.
Unfortunately, after reviewing a draft of proposed standards, I am no longer convinced that our rural schools will be on equal footing with schools in metropolitan areas as I expected when I voted for the bill.
More importantly, I am concerned that citizens who reside in outlying areas will not have a chance to address the board with their concerns about the proposed standards. While I appreciate the board's attempts to schedule public hearings statewide, I was disappointed to see that no hearings are being held outside of the state's major cities, thereby eliminating the opportunity for the rural voice to be heard. Without such a forum, I fear that the board may ultimately adopt standards for schools that will not meet the needs of many of our state's children.
For that reason, I urge School Facilities Board Chair Gary Trujillo to consider holding one additional public meeting in a rural area, so that the voices of all our state's citizens can be heard. I would be happy to help facilitate such a meeting, perhaps in a small town such as Globe.