Arizona was one of the states hardest hit during the Great Recession. This had a negative on the state’s funding levels for education. This is not news.
What has not been widely reported, however, is that even in the face of this adversity our students and teachers began moving in small, but sustained, increments towards excellence each and every year. No one really noticed at first. But as one year of progress stacked onto another, Arizona became a leader in learning gains, including closing opportunity gaps for our most vulnerable students.
Despite these gains, some corners remained focused on the cloud and not the silver lining. Any encouraging signs in outputs were met with hostile demands over revenue.
So, Gov. Ducey responded. He delivered a forceful one-two punch that will pay dividends for a very long time.
Punch one: Proposition 123. Governor Ducey, the Legislature and dozens of our state’s education leaders resolved a divisive lawsuit over K-12 inflation funding by sending to voters a creative, innovative solution for settling the lawsuit by injecting $3.5 billion into our K-12 schools over the next decade without raising taxes or overburdening the state budget. Voters liked what they saw and approved the measure last May. The importance of Proposition 123’s passage can’t be overstated. No other reforms could move forward until the lawsuit was safely in our rearview mirror.
Punch two: a state budget that recommends 70 percent of discretionary funding in fiscal year 2018 to be directed to K-12 schools and our higher education system. The governor’s budget calls for expanding excellence, closing the achievement gap, and reducing mediocrity in all neighborhoods. He has rolled out a collection of serious policy recommendations to strategically invest in what works, in the right places, for the long-term.
As usual, the critics havechimed in. And, also as usual, outcomes take a back seat to revenue. The criticism is the same as it ever was. Still, there have been plaudits from those who have traditionally been skeptical.
But Arizona voters – and parents – are results-focused. The governor recognizes this, and is deftly shifting the conversation to center on equitable outcomes, early literacy, and transparent funding for teachers designed to drive retention and recruitment.
Budgets are plans for the future. They tell us what our leaders believe about our state’s potential. Governor Ducey’s budget proclaims that better days are ahead for Arizona’s students, teachers and parents. He’s ready to move forward, and so are we.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.