Time To Fix College Funding Issue


If you're having trouble understanding all the nuances involved in the fight to get state funding for Gila Community College, don't feel bad. It's one of the more complex issues we've seen in a long time.

Basically it revolves around whether forming a provisional community college district was a good or a bad idea.

If you listen to our three state legislators -- Jake Flake, Bill Konopnicki and Jack Brown -- county and college officials should have known better than to form a provisional district in the first place. According to state law, some types of funding are automatically withheld.

If you listen to Gila County officials Steve Besich, John Nelson and Lionel Martinez, the county was simply doing the only thing it could do based on state law, which limits full-fledged districts to counties with a lot more people and higher property values than we'll ever have. Besich, Nelson and Martinez say they were well aware of the funding limitations of a provisional district, but that it took a new bill passed by the Legislature -- after the fact -- to cut off the other sources of funding.

To break this stalemate, the county recently took its case to Gov. Janet Napolitano's office. They were told that the law is the law on provisional community college districts, but maybe the governor can keep it in mind for next year.

That's where it stands today, with the issue unresolved and the county contemplating legal action against the state. At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated mess, we'd like to suggest a way out. Here's how we see it:

Gila County residents pay state taxes just like residents in every other county.

While other counties get state aid for their community colleges, Gila County does not. Politics aside, that's patently unfair. Worse yet, it's taxation without representation.

Given what federal courts and the Supreme Court have said about providing a quality education for all, the fact that Gila County has a larger minority population than many Arizona counties makes the whole issue look even worse.

At this point, it doesn't matter whether we should have formed a provisional district or who is to blame. What matters is doing the right thing.

Chances are, the state's position would not stand up in court anyway. Therefore, to save us all years of litigation and millions of dollars, and to ensure equal educational opportunities for all, the involved parties, including the governor's office and the Legislature, need to stop massaging this issue and fix it. Whatever it takes. Now.

We agree with Steve Besich. To do anything less would be illegal, discriminatory and unfair.

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