Time To Fight For What's Fair

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One of the first lessons we learn as children is that life isn't always fair.

It isn't fair that might makes right. It isn't fair that bad things happen to good people. It isn't fair that for no reason other than birth or luck, some people have more than they need while others labor mightily just to make ends meet.

While we struggle to understand such circumstances, it is especially burdensome when they come together at the same time in a kind of reverse harmonic convergence.

Such a case is the issue of funding for Gila Community College. At a meeting last week, county leaders explained this complex situation perhaps as well as it can be explained.

Gila County is one of eight counties ineligible under state law to form a community college district. To do so requires a population of 40,000 residents 15 years of age or older and an assessed valuation of $564 million. Chances are, Gila County will never qualify.

Of these eight counties, however, four have community college districts because they were grandfathered in. That leaves just four counties -- Apache, Gila, Greenlee and Santa Cruz -- that can't form community college districts.

Traditionally, these four counties have contracted with counties that have community college districts to provide their residents with college courses. That's what Gila County did with Eastern Arizona College for many years.

When Gila County decided that EAC had not been living up to its end of the contract, the county severed the relationship and asked voters to approve the creation of a provisional college district -- something the state allows smaller counties to do.

As a provisional district, Gila County still has to contract with a regular community college for credit programs, but it can receive funding directly from the state -- funding that in Gila County's case was going directly to EAC.

That funding was recently snatched away by SB1105, a bill originally designed to do some unrelated things for community colleges. Unfortunately a few changes were slipped in that had the effect of taking funding away from provisional community college districts, of which ours is the only one.

So now, the four rural counties that were grandfathered in will receive $33.5 million in state aid while Gila County receives absolutely nothing.

Some blame our three elected legislators -- Rep. Jake Flake, Rep. Bill Konopnicki, and Sen. Jack Brown -- for being asleep at the switch or worse. Martinez also blames Pima and Maricopa counties for slipping in the wording that excludes Gila County from college funding.

While it's true that life isn't always fair, education has always served as an equalizer.

That's why this outrage must be rectified, even if it means suing the state of Arizona. A lawsuit might be expensive, but each year our community colleges are unfunded the county is losing millions of dollars.

Most important, the people of Gila County are entitled to the same educational opportunities enjoyed by other residents of Arizona.

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