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Business leaders urge funding for state education
PHOENIX — Saying they can't find qualified applicants for jobs, business leaders from around the state asked lawmakers Wednesday to support funding to implement the new “common core'' standards.
But they're not willing to raise their taxes to do it.
A parade of speakers told a joint meeting of three House committees that even with the high jobless rate, many positions go unfilled. The reason, they said, is that students do not graduate from high school ready to work or ready for college.
Potentially more significant is the ability to think critically and not just acquire knowledge.
“Critical reasoning is important on how students progress from one level to another, said Ron Carsten, chief engineer for Raytheon Missile Systems.
“It can't just be a memorized equation or the multiplication table,'' he told lawmakers. “It's got to be how does that apply, how does it solve a problem.''
But Carsten said the problem goes beyond finding qualified workers from among Arizonans. He said the shortcomings here affect Raytheon's ability to recruit from elsewhere.
“The first question they ask: How good are the schools,'' he said. Carsten said his response is to tell them in which school districts they should buy a house.
“I shouldn't have to do that. We need some of these people in Arizona to be more competitive across the nation and globally.''
Todd Sanders, president of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said there's a “huge problem, a huge concern with having a qualified work force.'' He even told legislators that education is a greater economic development tool than the tax credits that they have provided for businesses.
But for all of the support for lawmakers to provide additional dollars, no one volunteered to pay higher taxes to make up for what Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, told colleagues is the $2.9 billion that's been taken from public schools in the past four years.
Even Sanders, questioned after the meeting, said his comments did not mean that businesses are ready to forego some of those credits. “I think they're two separate issues.”
Sanders said that for the first time in years, the state appears to have more revenues coming in than are needed to fund services at current levels. “We think that some of those dollars should be allocated toward funding ‘common core.'”
Glenn Hamer, his counterpart at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, repeated the same theme. “We're not talking about rolling back credits or anything like that.”
Rep. Tom Forese, R-Chandler, who helped organize the meeting of the committees on education, commerce, and higher education and workforce development, said he hopes to spur an interest in more spending on education by some of his Republican colleagues.
“We're at a crossroads. We will not have the Arizona in 20 years that we have today.''
Forese said decisions made now on education funding will determine whether the state is “a shell of a megatropolis where movers and shakers and entrepreneurs have left'' or “a hub of capitalism.''
Gov. Jan Brewer already has said she intends to seek some funds for this coming year to implement the standards.
She has not said how much of the possible $600 million in surplus funds she plans to dedicate to that, saying that will have to wait until Friday. But Brewer already has listed a series of other priorities that will eat into those dollars, including money for new school resource officers and hiring more caseworkers for Child Protective Services.
There could be even less available if the state has to comply with Tuesday's ruling by the Court of Appeals to add an extra $82 million in inflation funding for public schools.