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Long-term education goals won’t be reached in one budget cycle

by Expect More Arizona

During the 2008 economic crisis, some Arizonans lost their jobs or their homes, or both. With revenues down, the state budget was drastically cut, and education funding took a beating. After nearly a decade, Arizona is finally getting back on a stable economic path and is ready to invest in the future.

Our recent poll results show that education remains the top issue among Arizona voters, and that teacher pay and school funding are the leading concerns. Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal prioritizes education, allocating the majority of available state funds to support K-12 education. Incremental funding increases each year, combined with meaningful policy conversations around our shared statewide goals and a willingness to work together, are good for Arizona’s students.

Education is a long game, with each play impacting the lives of students and their future success. Until last year, Arizona didn’t have a shared set of community-owned priorities to drive education policy and investment.

Expect More Arizona partnered with the Center for the Future of Arizona and hundreds of organizations to develop the Arizona Education Progress Meter, which lays out eight ambitious long-term education goals for our state. The goals were set by groups of experts in each area: quality early learning, third grade reading, eighth grade math, high school graduation, opportunity for youth, postsecondary enrollment, postsecondary attainment, and teacher pay.

These goals have become the widely accepted education framework, as they have been embraced by business leaders, state and local leaders, school districts, dozens of local governments, and hundreds of community organizations across the state.

We aim to reach seven of the eight goals by 2030. On one hand, 12 years is too long to wait for improvements in education. But impacting outcomes takes varied levels of time and resources to bring students from where they are today to their full potential. Success requires big and small steps.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget proposal is an important step. It represents a sizeable investment in education. Most important is the governor’s pledge to restore district and charter additional assistance by 2023, starting with $100 million in FY2019. This funding restoration has the potential to free up dollars for school districts to support other priorities, such as increasing teacher pay.

We are also pleased to see more funding for early literacy interventions and career and technical education. Both will have a positive impact on those 2030 goals. In addition, the move from cash spending to debt financing for school expansion or construction would represent a significant policy shift and is particularly meaningful as we leverage current dollars to maximize potential.

To be clear, this budget does not provide all the resources needed to meet the shared goals we have for education in the state. The proposal does not address the fiscal cliff faced by education in just three years with the expiration of the Proposition 301 sales tax, which generates $640 million annually. It does not identify new revenues for education investments that have the potential to strengthen Arizona for the long term, nor does it fully address how to raise teacher pay to the national median by 2022 – one of the shared goals.

Arizona’s education system – early education, K-12, community colleges, and universities – requires continued, reliable investments over time. Expect More Arizona is eager to work together, across party lines, to find long-term funding solutions that support the success of every student, regardless of background, income or zip code.

If Arizona is successful in meeting those 2030 goals, it will mean a stronger economy and a better quality of life for us all.

— Christine M. Thompson is president and CEO of Expect More Arizona.

This article was originally published by the Arizona Capitol Times on January 18, 2018.

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