State Schools On Life Support

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We’re not out of the hospital. But at least we’re off life support.

Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed budget remains cautiously conservative — perhaps not such a bad thing under the circumstances. She’s proposing a 6 percent increase in state spending to about $9.4 billion — which includes a roughly 7 percent increase for K-12 schools, an encouraging 9 percent increase for universities and a disheartening 11 percent increase for prisons — a woeful reversal of the priorities we’d like to see.

She proposes a modest, hold-the-line budget — with an augmented reserve and cautious projections for state revenue growth in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

She’s offering about half of the new caseworkers Child Protective Services says it needs. And the proposed budget comes nowhere near restoring the alarming cuts the Legislature has made in K-12 education, which remains the foundation of our future.

We’re still dubious about the governor’s effort to reduce education to standardized test scores. She wants to put $40 million into rewarding schools whose students make big gains on standardized tests and millions more in developing a data system to track the scores. We understand the appeal of the approach, but have a painful, gnawing feeling that the changes will likely do more harm than good — especially with a rush to adopt national tests that don’t match up to the curriculum.

Hopefully, the state will do better than the 2 percent growth in employment and a 3 percent increase in economic output she projects. But we’d rather be happily surprised than back into deficit spending.

The governor’s economic assessment made one curious observation: While income tax collections have jumped a heartening 9 percent, corporate income tax collections have slumped — despite a big jump in corporate profits. The odd trend stems from the tax breaks the Legislature lavished on corporations even as it slashed education budgets to the bone. Lawmakers hoped the generous tax breaks totaling some $500 million would result in stronger business growth in the years to come.

However, we remain convinced good schools will do more to attract the businesses and corporations we want than will a hodge-podge of tax breaks. The Legislature wants the lowest corporate taxes in the country — but we surely can’t afford that distinction if it demands we also have the worst-funded schools in the nation.

Of course, we’ll all have to wait with bated breath to see how the Legislature responds to the governor’s proposals.

Our schools and a host of other vital programs have suffered through the past few years in a fiscal coma, wheezing on the ventilator. We can’t afford to roll them out the hospital door in a wheelchair now.

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