Exciting times for education in Arizona

Eastern Arizona Courier
Monday, June 1, 2015
Syvlia Allen


These are exciting times for education in Arizona. A new report from U.S. News & World Report puts three Phoenix-area high schools in the top 10 high schools in America. Our state continues to be among the leaders in school choice for parents.
Our leaders in Arizona are working overtime to improve education; Governor Ducey’s Classrooms First Initiative Council is looking at school finance to ensure more funding for teachers and classroom instruction. The State Superintendent is leading an effort to review regulations and eliminate those that are unnecessary or outdated.
It seems that in Arizona we never talk about the successes we are having in education but only claims of inadequate funding, which can be misleading when we try to compare ourselves to other states. The overall assumption that more money will mean better schools is off base. If that were the case, Washington, D.C., and New York would be leading the way, rather than Arizona and Florida.
A special report from the Arizona Tax Research Association explains why Arizona can’t just “flip a switch” and climb toward the top in state funding for K-12. First, we are always near the top in student growth in the country, so our classrooms fill quicker than the funding. Arizona, Nevada and Florida are in the top 10 in student growth and the bottom 10 in per-pupil spending. There is a clear correlation.
Also, Arizona has among the highest percentages of residents under 18 and one of the highest percentages of 65-plus populations. That is significant because it means our working age adult population is 49th in the United States. Our demographics are working against us when it comes to increasing our tax base. We are hampered as a state that is federally controlled with only 14 percent private property for our tax base. Because of these and other issues, there is little Arizona leaders could do to move meaningfully up the rankings without decimating our economy and placing the burden upon our taxpayers to give more.
Governor Ducey’s proposal to put nearly $2 billion into K-12 schools over five years is another bold idea worth considering. I look forward to the conversation over the state’s land trust and how it could provide a boost to education in our state. We will have a thorough discussion and review of the proposal in the upcoming legislative session. As state revenues improve, I will always be ready to put the majority of the increase into our school system.
Education is one of my priorities, and I am grateful to all educators who are making a future for our children. The Governor’s Office, the State Schools Superintendent and the Legislature are all working together to find the best solutions for our schools, our teachers and our students.
Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen represents Legislative District 6 and makes her home in Snowflake.