If you turn on the television, or open your mailbox, this year’s election is being dominated by a slew of topics with immigration, gun rights and personal attacks being the most common. Each of these issues obscures what should be the most important priority in this election: the future of education in our state.
In order for Arizona to compete for the best and brightest businesses, families and young professionals, a well-educated workforce is an absolute necessity. Our failure to invest in education, especially at the K-12 level, has led to many headlines over the past couple of weeks.
A recent article in The Arizona Republic labeled Arizona as one of the worst states to be a child, pointing to our high child poverty rate, lack of early childhood education, and chronically underfunded schools. Recent data from the Arizona Department of Education shows that over a third of K-12 teachers in Maricopa County have left their schools the last two years.
And most consequential of all, a court ruling last month mandated that the Legislature increase its funding commitment to Arizona schools by $317 million next year. The ruling, if upheld, could result in billions of extra dollars in funding over the next decade.
With teacher salaries and funding levels among the lowest in the country, the ruling is a breath of fresh air for our state, and an opportunity to invest in our collective future.
The additional investment will allow us to give our hard working teachers a raise. It will allow us to decrease ballooning class sizes. It will allow us to invest in early childhood education at a time when studies show it’s never been more important to the long-term success of our children.
Where will the state get the resources? The hundreds of millions of dollars in the state rainy day fund will provide a start. Over the next couple of years, as our economy continues to grow out of the recession, our leaders will need to come together to construct a permanent revenue stream for education. This is a bipartisan issue, and will require responsible leaders from both sides of the aisle.
As a resident of our community for over 20 years, I couldn’t be prouder to be a product of the outstanding local schools we are fortunate to have in our backyard. Without additional resources, and investment, I fear that the same schools will struggle to prepare our children for an increasingly competitive 21st century economy.
With early ballots out now for this month’s primary election, and the general election less than three months away, electing a governor and a Legislature that values investing in our state’s future should be the most important issue we face. It will be for me.
• Ahwatukee resident Sean Bowie is a management consultant and longtime education advocate.