Candidate Neglect

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We couldn’t help but notice the unsettling juxtaposition of two stories on today’s front page.

First, the Arizona Auditor General issued the annual report card on K-12 school spending. The report showed that the share of money going directly into the classroom has declined steadily — mostly due to a big loss of teachers. The number of teachers dropped by 9 percent while enrollment dropped just 3 percent.

Payson schools have certainly felt those cuts, as the Legislature abandoned public education in a frantic effort to balance the budget. Payson closed Frontier Elementary School to save about $500,000 annually — which resulted in a big increase in average class sizes at the two surviving elementary schools. Now, Payson has fallen back to 2008 per-student spending levels with little relief in sight.

But we mentioned two stories on the front page.

The second story centered on Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s just launched campaign to secure the Republican nomination for governor.

He spoke in Payson on Saturday and offered a chilling analysis of the state budget meltdown that caused those deep cuts in education. He rightly observed that the Legislature embraced all kinds of shady budget maneuvers — including delaying payments to schools, sweeping funds, selling off and renting back the state capital and making deep cuts in important programs. Even at that, it took a $3 billion federal bailout to keep the state afloat.

So now that we’ve survived — what’s his advice? Cut, cut, cut — and eliminate the state’s already wispy income tax.

When it comes to schools, all he said was that money can’t solve all our problems and we can only help schools by growing the economy (by cutting taxes).

Now, you can’t argue that a healthy, vibrant, diverse economy remains the best cure for a multitude of ills — from poverty, to hunger to decaying schools. But education remains the state’s single most expensive — and important — function. For a major candidate for governor to make a stump speech without making any substantial reference to education is deeply discouraging.

Especially on the same page as that alarming auditor general’s report.

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