Citizen Staff Writer
Legislators now are eyeing education funding, the biggest slice of the state budget pie, to help trim this fiscal year’s $1.2 billion deficit.
It’s a natural target, as school funding consumes a whopping 42 percent of the budget.
But in a state that already ranks 49th in per-pupil funding, the question becomes: How low can we go?
Some conservative Republican legislators aren’t huge fans of public schools. Voters are, though. And lawmakers should keep that in mind, as any harm they do to students and schools very well may harm them, too, come 2010.
Arizona’s voters in 2000 enacted Proposition 301, creating a 20-year sales tax of 0.6 cent per $1 to fund education programs on all levels.
That special tax has generated as much as $21 million a year for Tucson Unified School District, for example.
Legislators can’t touch that money. But they can go after so-called “soft capital” – the funds for technology, equipment and some categories of students.
That may be tempting. But in complex financial maneuvers, the easiest path is rarely the wisest.
With the nation in a recession, and Arizona’s poor reputation for K-12 schools already hampering our economic development, the smart response is not to slash education funding even further.
Yet the state already has frozen the one program that would create jobs and pump dollars into our economy: school construction.
And while legislators continue to pursue cuts, they’re ignoring the need to also bolster our state revenue.
Revenue that could serve public education now is being frittered away on tax credits and vouchers that siphon money off to private schools and programs.
Private schools, many of them religious-based, got $51 million of state tax money in 2006 through tax credits, for example. The courts have upheld that program, but it nonetheless constitutes another source of lost revenue that could help ease the crunch in our public school system.
We hope the 2009 Legislature will look long and hard at how to stanch the draining of state revenues.
We also encourage lawmakers to analyze how a school construction program – which would generate jobs, sales of building materials, etc. – might benefit state coffers.
And finally, we urge legislators not to further reduce our inadequate funding of public schools.
Once state programs are carefully reviewed, we’re certain that more prudent budget cuts can be made in prison programs, highway repairs and other areas rather than on the backs of our children.
In tough times such as these, it’s important to keep our best priorities intact.
Whether from prisons, highway repairs or other areas, budget cuts can be made without damaging our schools.