Major employers from throughout the state have lined up behind Expect More Arizona’s effort to improve the most poorly funded public education system in the country.
Arizona businesses backing the education advocacy group say they’re fed up with schools that churn out students without the skills a modern job demands. Arizona schools rank last nationally in per-student funding after the Legislature made deeper cuts during the recession than any other state. The Legislature has also eliminated most funding for building new school facilities.
President of Expect More Arizona Pearl Chang Esau and Vice President Erin Eccleston visited Payson this week to share the group’s accomplishments and goals.
“Our partners and organization hope to raise expectations and make education in Arizona a first priority,” said Chang Esau.
“We have community mobilizers that come into communities such as Payson to hold seminars to help parents,” said Eccleston.
Study after study shows that when children drop out of school and fail to achieve even a high school diploma, the costs to society in welfare and criminal justice costs skyrocket.
The Expect More Arizona website (ww.expectmorearizona.org) is chock-full of statistics on the lackluster Arizona education system such as:
• 66 percent of kindergarten teachers say their students are not prepared when they started school.
• 25 percent of Arizona’s students do not graduate from high school on time.
• 53 percent of Arizona high school graduates do not qualify to enroll in Arizona’s state universities.
Major corporations like APS and Intel note that 85 percent of the higher paying growth opportunity jobs require education beyond high school. However, only 35 percent of Arizona working adults have a community college degree or better.
Expect More wants to raise awareness at the legislative and community level on education issues and celebrates examples of excellence in education.
The group has started a voting initiative called Vote 4 Education that hopes to get parents and educators out to vote on education issues. The group has also sponsored a series of community forums.
“We hope to engage parents and support effective teachers,” said Chang Esau.
Chang Esau has made connections not only in the business world, but also with all three state universities, the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA), and nonprofit organizations such as the Arizona Community Foundation and the Helios Education Foundation.
The group has stressed the results of a poll showing that 60 percent of Arizona voters rank education as either “one of the most important” or a “very important” issue in the races for governor and the state Legislature.
An overwhelming 70 percent of the voters surveyed ranked as a “high priority” making sure kids can read adequately by the third grade, increasing education funding to attract and retain top teachers and providing support for students who are falling behind.
The group has also emerged as an advocate for raising state educational standards linked to the federal push to introduce Common Core curriculum and standards, intended to stress critical thinking skills.
The state has adopted standards consistent with Common Core and provided some money to districts to replace the existing AIMS test with a comprehensive set of assessment tests linked to the new, federal standards. However, the effort has become controversial. Seven of the eight Republican candidates for governor say they want the state to pull out of the Common Core standards. Some cite too great a reliance on standardized testing. Some cite the loss of local control. Some cite the increasing influence of the federal government over education.
Chang Esau maintains that raising the standards and stressing critical thinking skills can provide students with essential skills and prepare them for the workplace, but only if the state provides adequate support.
“We must provide the support teachers need to ensure their students flourish under the more rigorous K-12 standards we have put in place. We must prioritize investments in Arizona’s public education system to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed, starting with high-quality early learning. We must make Arizona a place where we can recruit and keep outstanding teachers in every classroom. And, we must ensure that every child, regardless of background or zip code, is able to attain more education after high school, because in today’s job market, high school is no longer enough,” she wrote.