Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
By Howard Fischer CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
A key element of the business community is gearing up to fight a permanent
extension of the state’s onecent sales tax surcharge.
Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry,
said his organization is a big supporter of education and does believe
more resources are needed. He said that is why they supported the
temporary levy in 2010.
That tax, along with the nearly $1 billion a year it raises, self-destructs
at the end of this coming May. But Hamer said it’s one thing to support
a temporary fix for a temporary budget problem, as the alternative
would have been even sharper cuts to education than lawmakers approved to
balance the books. This new measure,he said, is a permanent levy — with dollars
earmarked to specific programs — one that could be altered only by sending
the issue back to voters.
“To us, it feels like it’s basically ballot-box budgeting,’’ he said. Hamer said he was not disputing a
recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau which shows Arizona near the bottom of all states when it comes to
spending money on public education. That study found per pupil spending in Arizona at $7,848. That compares
with $10,615 nationwide, putting the state ahead of only Idaho and Utah. He said, though, these numbers tell
only part of the story. “The more important metrics to focus on from our view is what are we
getting from these dollars,’’ he said. “Are we getting an improvement in test scores?’’ Hamer said funding is “a
part of that.’’ “But to permanently cut a check of about a billion dollars a year without meaningful accountability
safeguards is not the best way to proceed, in our view,’’ Hamer said. But Ann-Eve Pedersen, who
chairs the initiative effort, said that’s not true. “A piece of it includes performance measures such as
test scores, third-grade reading proficiencies, graduation rates, drop-out rates,’’ Pedersen
said, as well as how Arizona compares with other states on things like the National Assessment
of Educational Progress. “And there’ll also be a piece of that, that gauges student engagement
and parental satisfaction.’’ She acknowledged, though, that the bulk of the funds are
distributed regardless of performance. Hamer said the chamber supported the efforts by Gov.
Jan Brewer to put more money into education for the current budget. He specifically mentioned
the $40 million the governor sought to fund a new requirement for students to be
able to read at the third-grade level before being promoted to the fourth grade.
While lawmakers funded that, they balked at Brewer’s request for $200 million for
“soft capital,’’ which includes books, computers and supplies. Instead, the Legislature provided
just $15 million in general capital funds to be divided among all the school districts
in the state. “Yes, we would have liked to have seen more funding in the
budget when it came to education,’’Hamer said. “But we also understand that the state’s been in a difficult
budget situation for a number of years,’’ he continued. “The Legislature at least made an important down payment on
one important aspect.’’ Hamer said his board of directors was turned off by the fact that the initiative is about
more than just education. He pointed out that, if approved, there also would be funds for everything from health care
to new road construction projects. “It reads more like a federal omnibus earmarks appropriations bill,’’ he said.