The following editorial appeared in today’s Arizona Republic (Download PDF):
With just one day remaining before the May 18 election, parents, students, educators and education advocates are anxiously awaiting the outcome of their months of hard work. The passage – or failure – of Proposition 100, a temporary one-cent sales tax increase, will determine the quality of education that Arizona students receive over the next three years.
In truth, Arizona cannot afford for Proposition 100 to fail.
During the last three fiscal years, Arizona’s education system suffered more than $1 billion in budget cuts. Too often viewed as an expense rather than an investment, education has been routinely slashed to the bone. The effect: dismissed teachers, increased class sizes and the elimination of key academic, music and athletic programs.
The state budget was, essentially, balanced on the backs of our children.
If Proposition 100 now fails, budget cuts will be even deeper as the Legislature is driven back to the proverbial drawing board to further reduce funding for public education.
Arizona education continues to fall behind national and international benchmarks. For too many years and in too many studies, Arizona’s education system ranks below average. Too few kindergarteners show up to school ready to learn. Too many students who are behind their peers by third grade never catch up. Too few high school seniors are adequately prepared to succeed in college or the workforce. Too few students go on to earn a college degree.
The talent being produced by other nations is quickly outpacing the U.S., and that places us all in a compromising position.
Whether you have children currently in the education system or not, Arizona’s economy and our individual quality of life are inextricably linked to our education system. Arizona must be able to educate and deliver a pipeline of skilled, talented workers in order to attract new businesses, help existing business grow and expand economic development opportunities. And the best and brightest professionals looking to build careers and raise families in Arizona need to know that our schools can adequately educate their children and grandchildren.
If Proposition 100 fails to pass, education, public safety and health programs in our state will take a huge fiscal hit. That means under-resourced and lower quality schools, fewer police officers keeping us safe and shrinking health services for our state’s must vulnerable citizens.
Tough economic times frequently result in crisis-driven decision making. The one-cent sales tax is a viable solution to at least some of the financial shortfalls plaguing our education system. It will not solve every problem or close the budget gap entirely, but it will provide a critical safety net to sustain our schools for the next three years and support the momentum of education reform efforts across the state.
The clock is already ticking on our education system, and that requires us to be visionary like never before. It is now in the hands of every Arizona voter to determine the fate of our education system, the opportunities available to our students and the collective prosperity of our great state.
All of us in support of Expect More Arizona believe that a “yes” vote on Proposition 100 is an investment in Arizona’s future, and one that will have a long-term, positive impact.
Paul J. Luna is President and CEO, Helios Education Foundation, and Chair of the Expect More Arizona Board.
Learn more about Expect More Arizona’s “Vote 4 Education” campaign.