Monday, February 9, 2009

Republican Perspective on Education Cuts All Wrong

Two hundred seventy-eight million. That's the total number of dollars that was cut from K-12 and higher education by the recently passed state budget adjustment. Excuses from Republicans abound to minimize this number. It's "only 3.2 percent from the general fund" according to a press release by Sen. Linda Gray of Phoenix. Other popular excuses include that these cuts only take education back to FY07 funding levels and that school districts have too much administrative overhead. The bottom line is that Kindergarten teachers through college professors are now expected to educate our residents on $278 million less than they had before.

And, unfortunately, they will do it. They will do it because they are dedicated to to the promise of quality public education. And the very same people that voted for those cuts will point to this and say "See? I told you we were paying too much, because they're still doing just fine." And next time there is a funding shortage, they will cut, and the same people who stepped up to keep delivering for Arizona will rise to the challenge again. And again, and again. Because they don't have a choice. They are the ones that bear the responsibility for keeping the system going. Because if they don't, guess who comes down on them for not keeping AIMS scores high enough, or for letting graduation rates get too low? That's right, the same people who voted to cut "only 3.2 percent," to "just" take them back to 2007 levels. Let's take a look at FY07 vs. FY09:
  • In fiscal year 2007, 1,024,164 students attended Arizona public schools. In fiscal year 2009, 1,156,300 students are expected to attend, an increase of over 130,000.
  • In each of Fiscal Years 2008 and 2009, the legislature awarded much-needed pay increases to teachers, totaling over $100 million each year.
  • In both FY2007 and FY2009, the students per staff ratio in Arizona schools is virtually the same: 9.49 in 2007 vs. 9.57 in 2009. So much for claims of rampant administrative growth.
  • In FY2007, the three state universities enrolled 107,616 full-time students. In FY2009, 113,251, an increase of 5,635.
  • After the FY09 budget adjustments, those same universities have $24.5 million less than they did in FY2007 to educate those additional students.

The truth is that much of the growth in the costs of education are due higher enrollment and salary increases that everyone agreed were a good idea. Those are the facts about what this budget adjustment did to education. Children and young adults don't stop needing an education when times are bad, and these very institutions are what promise to insulate our state as much as possible from future economic crises. The system could always work better, but statements that there is rampant waste in public education at all levels are patently false. We simply cannot keep asking people to do more with less, then blaming them when performance suffers, and rewarding them with an "I told you so" when they manage to pick up the slack.

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