An economy in freefall and a severely contracting job market have placed the collective futures of our young people in dire jeopardy. However, the greatest immediate threat facing our children’s economic security comes directly as a result of the actions of the Arizona State Legislature and not from the economy in general.
Apparently, the State Legislature feels that our children should be just smart enough to do their menial labor service job and no smarter. Intentional or not, the recently passed state budget has just been balanced on the educational backs and at the expense of Arizona’s youngest citizens.
America is dead last in the educational performance of its school children when compared to its post-industrial counterparts. Arizona is the worst state in the country in terms of graduation rates, spending per pupil and the amount of children which go on to obtain college degrees. In other words, Arizona is the worst of the worst when it comes to education. The Arizona Legislature seems intent on cementing our hold on last place.
I often wonder what goes through the mind of a state legislator when they are confronted with the reality that our education system is the most under funded and underperforming state-wide system in the country. There is no question that Arizona schools are miserably failing to meet the demands of the kids. Approximately 30% of the students drop out, 20% of the students are being prepared for vocations, and another 20% go to college, while the rest of the "educationally neglected youths" received no specific training and are cast adrift in sea of what can best be described as “12 years of futility” until they are socially promoted to the graduation stand.
Arizona has already witnessed thousands of teacher and support staff layoffs, the elimination of valuable educational programs, and the looming disaster of extremely large class sizes this fall. We desperately need to change Arizona's priorities by calling a halt to the corporate tax giveaways and we need to invest in Arizona's future by ensuring adequate funding for education. Unfortunately, both the Republican and Democratic leadership in the legislature have a different approach to dealing with our economic challenges which includes previously unimaginable and unprecedented cuts to education. In January of 2009, the Republican leadership pushed through the largest single statewide public education budget cut in Arizona's history. Sadly, Arizona’s children have not felt the worst as the budget deficit in fiscal 2010 is expected to triple. With the present anti-educational legislative mindset, Arizona’s children, in 2011, will be lucky to attend schools which have running water and flushing toilets in Arizona’s new version of education by candlelight.
When your children return to school this fall, they will be met by grossly underpaid and overworked teachers attempting to adjust salary cuts, a grossly under supplied classroom and unprecedented class sizes in which they will be lucky if their teacher learns their first name by the end of the semester.
Arizona’s educators used to say “Thank God for Mississippi because Arizona’s children still outperformed the often beleaguered southern state. Today, in a strange twist of fate, Mississippi now says “Thank God for Arizona.”