Arizona Needs Strong Leadership to Address Education Funding Issues

Author: Vince Roig, Founding Chairman, Helios Education Foundation

Posted on: December 6, 2019

Currently in Arizona, only one out of every four preschoolers are in quality early learning settings; less than half of third-graders are proficient in reading; less  than half of eighth graders are proficient in math, and only one out of two high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education after high school. 

If these statistics don’t shock and dismay you, let me point out that the students represented in those numbers are the future workforce of this state.  The fact is that we are failing our students and it is time that we acknowledge it, take responsibility for it, and change it. 

If we are committed to improving the education outcomes for all of our students, we need a broad-based plan for education that provides more financial resources for the entire education continuum – from early learning through postsecondary.  Over the past year, Helios Education Foundation, along with a group of business, education, and community leaders has been thinking about how to address this need.  We had conversations about the additional revenue that needs to be invested in education and where that revenue can be invested for the most impact.    Through our work with business, education, and community leaders, we have come up with a collaborative framework.  It’s a framework that is necessary, that is feasible, and that is sensible.  But it is not without sacrifice.  It will require us to do the one thing that nobody likes to even talk about – raise taxes.  But, there simply is no other alternative to sufficiently increase the amount of revenue required to address Arizona’s most pressing education needs. 

The group’s framework includes raising $1.5 billion in additional revenue that will be invested in early learning opportunities for low-income children, teacher recruitment and retention including increasing teacher pay, workforce development and job training, and tuition assistance to universities. 

We did significant economic analysis that led us to the $1.5 billion figure.  It was determined by three leading economists in our state – each with background and experiences representing various points of view and political perspectives - that $1.5 billion was an achievable amount and could be raised through a combination of modest sales and property tax increases without harming Arizona’s economic growth. 

However, many people have told us that $1.5 billion is too much and that even suggesting a property tax increase of any sort is a non-starter.  So, if this approach isn’t an acceptable solution, then what is?  What should we do to improve education in our state?  What should we do to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education that prepares them to contribute to our communities?  The reality is that doing nothing is a choice, a choice that puts Arizona’s future on a downward trajectory.  We will reap the consequences of this choice for generations to come.   

We need business, education, and community leaders to have the courage to stand up and lead on this issue.  We need to support our students, teachers and the education continuum and we need to raise taxes to do it.   We need elected leaders to stand in the face of political pressure to do what’s right and to speak the truth about what needs to happen.  One of Helios Education Foundation’s fundamental beliefs is that education is an investment, not an expense.  It’s time our state started nurturing that investment instead of consistently trying to manage the expense.  Our students are worth it and our state’s future economic growth and development depends on it. 

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