Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Talk is fine, but we could Expect More with different lawmakers

Citizen Staff Writer

No, it can’t hurt. Forming one more group to promote education, one more group that says schools are being shortchanged, having one more group to try to hammer some common sense into the thick skulls of state legislators can’t hurt.

It may actually do some good. I hope so. But I doubt it.

There have been so many of those groups that I can’t possibly remember them all. And now that state budget cuts are threatening education, the groups are proliferating.

Expect More Arizona is the latest, and it seems well organized and well funded with about $2 million available. It has a nice letterhead, a professional logo and an impressive chocolate and teal color scheme.

Its slogan is “Ready Kids. Ready Graduates. Ready Workforce.” You’ve probably seem the ads placed in a number of newspapers around the state, including this one.

In one ad, several people are standing in front of a school bus with the headline, “What We Put Into Education Determines What We Get Out Of It.” (They’re Big On Capitalizing Words For No Particular Reason.)

Maybe this group will be the one that changes everything in Arizona. But probably not.

And here’s why: The problem in Arizona is not how much money is spent for schools. The problem is the people who decide how much money will be spent for schools.

Polls show that Arizonans want more money for education. In the past we’ve willingly raised taxes to put more money into schools. And a recent statewide poll say we would support a temporary 1 percent sales tax increase. Presumably some of that money would go to schools.

But then look at the Legislature, where about one-third of the members haven’t attended college. Neither did Gov. Jan Brewer.

College isn’t the answer for everything and everyone. But with a third of the people who make decisions not even exposed to college, it’s tough to persuade them it’s worth the money.

We are never going to change their minds. So if we want to change the attitudes of Arizona leaders, we’ve got to change the Arizona leaders.

And that’s where groups such as Expect More Arizona fall short. They step up to the plate, take a couple of impressive practice swings, then stand there with the bat on their shoulder and watch three strikes whiz by.

Paul J. Luna, chairman of the oversight board of Expect More Arizona, describes the group as “nonpartisan, nonpolitical.” That’s the problem. This is an issue that is decidedly partisan and political.

Luna said the group will “create public awareness of increasing funding for education in Arizona.” That’s fine. So I’m aware. But what next?

Educating people about education problems will go only so far. To make any substantive changes, the people making the decisions need to be changed. As in replaced.

And that is something Expect More Arizona is not planning to do.

Luna said, “The perception of Arizona is that we are not an education state.” Why is that the perception? Because it’s true. Education is just not that important to the people who make decisions on where to spend the money.

But Luna said Expect More Arizona will stop at educating voters. It won’t take the next step and endorse pro-education candidates or urge the defeat of anti-education candidates or get involved in campaigns.

It may be the right decision from a practical standpoint. Once a group becomes a political action committee, donations to it are not tax-deductible.

But it is not the right decision from a policy standpoint. It’s not the right way to make changes.

Educating people about an issue goes only so far. At some point, you’ve got to admit they aren’t going to learn and need to be replaced. And that’s where we are today in Arizona.

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. He may be reached by e-mail at mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com or by calling 573-4662.


For more information about Expect More Arizona, go to: www.ExpectMoreArizona.org

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