Schools Need Help

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We’re delighted that so many of the state’s leading employers have joined forces with advocates for education to launch Expect More Arizona’s efforts to educate voters about the state of education in Arizona. Maybe they should start with Rep. Brenda Barton, who mingles good suggestions with strange misunderstandings in the column you’ll find in this issue.

Employers like Intel and APS have backed Expect More Arizona’s crusade to build public support for education in a state where the Legislature made the deepest cuts in the nation during the recession. The Legislature seems content to let our schools languish at 50th, despite the strong recovery of revenues and the struggles of our students.

The corporations have gotten involved because they know they can’t prosper in a state where students lack the skills needed in a modern economy.

Despite the dwindling state support, teachers and students have struggled to cope and grow. Some studies have ranked Arizona schools as among the most efficient in the country, since our funding is abysmal and our test scores are merely mediocre. But somehow, Rep. Barton takes this as evidence that money doesn’t matter at all.

Asked whether she would “grow revenue” to increase school funding, Rep. Barton says she would never raise taxes for schools — and implies that districts have ample local property tax revenue. In fact, the state sharply limits how much districts can raise through local property taxes. The courts ordered the state to devise a system that didn’t rely on property taxes alone, since it had previously produced an unconstitutionally vast per-student spending gap between rich districts and poor ones — like the rural districts that dominate Rep. Barton’s district.

So we wish Expect More Arizona luck in educating voters — and lawmakers — on where the responsibility lies when it comes to school funding.

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