Voting ‘Yes on Prop 204’ is a Vote for Arizona’s Future and Our Children

Posted on: October 29, 2012

In November, the nation will engage in the very democracy our country was founded on when we vote to elect the next President of the United States. But as Arizonans go to the polls, we have another key vote to cast on Election Day — a vote for education.

Arizona’s economic future is inextricably linked to our state’s ability to provide a high-quality, P-20 educational system. And by investing in a strong educational system, we open the door to opportunities for Arizona and our children by preparing them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s global economy.

With Arizona’s prosperity currently at stake as we face the end of the one-cent sales tax benefiting education, Helios Education Foundation stands in support of Proposition 204 and in favor of a long-term, dedicated source of revenue to fund education. Prop 204 renews and makes permanent the three-year temporary sales tax passed by voters in 2010, ensuring that 80 percent of the revenue generated will be dedicated to education.

While no one initiative is a silver bullet, Prop 204 moves us closer to filling the financial gaps eating away at the very fabric of our educational system. In fact, without it, our state could face a budget shortfall of up to $1 billion, resulting in more devastating cuts to education and further impeding our ability to prepare our students for success in an increasingly competitive college and career environment.

The report card is out; Arizona has yet to make the grade on its constitutional mandate to appropriately and adequately fund education. According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, state legislators cut $671 million from the K-12 budget and deferred $1 billion in payments to schools between fiscal years 2008 and 2012. As a result, when compared to other states, we consistently rank at the bottom for per-pupil funding.

Supporting Proposition 204 is a vote for education, our children and Arizona’s economic future.

Right now, across grades, the academic performance of Arizona students, especially minorities and women, in math and science is low. In fact, only 34 percent of 4th graders and 23 percent of 8th graders score at or above proficient in math. At the same time, Arizona business leaders report not being able to find enough talent with skills in science, technology, engineering and math to fill current and projected jobs opportunities.

Fortunately, Arizona has joined 44 other states in adopting the rigorous, internationally-bench marked Common Core State Standards for math and English, and is collaborating on the Next Generation Science Standards. Arizona is also part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a collaboration to develop a higher bar assessment of student achievement aligned with these important new standards.

Arizona’s adoption of higher standards and assessments signifies that excellence is expected for every student and in every classroom. Unfortunately, critical components of these mandates remain unfunded or under-funded, including teacher training and much needed technology upgrades for the PARCC test.

We must change course. We must invest in high quality education for all Arizona students.

Prop 204 could provide as much as $180 million toward the implementation of Common Core and other under-funded education reforms, such as Move On When Reading which requires that students be reading at grade level by third grade or be held back; teacher and principal evaluations which will be heavily linked to student performance; and the new A-F school grading system requiring districts and charter schools to improve the performance of their lowest achieving students.

In addition, Prop 204 would establish scholarships for in-state community college and university students, fund General Educational Development (GED) programs and invest in career and technical education programs in high schools and community colleges that graduate students ready to enter the workforce.

Accountable to Arizona voters, Proposition 204 also earmarks some resources for a statewide accountability database system and ties a portion of funding to student performance, mandating periodic audits to ensure taxpayer dollars are used wisely and deliver results. Most importantly, local school boards, whose members are elected by and accountable to voters, are responsible for the funds and are able to invest them in their local districts for the greatest impact on teacher quality and student achievement.

The world’s ever-evolving, knowledge-based economy demands more graduates who are innovative, critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers. By investing in the academic success of our children and grandchildren, and those of our neighbors, we will naturally address the workforce needs of our state and nation. A commitment to ensuring all Arizona students receive an excellent education also contributes to our overall quality of life, making Arizona a great place to work, live and raise a family.

With government, business, philanthropy and others at the table, we can create a high-performing educational system that produces high-demand graduates. But we must engage and put our children’s education first. Our state needs a long-term, stable solution to education funding, a dedicated source of revenue to help build a high-performing system.

Even in tough economic times we must act with the future in mind, putting our children and our state at the forefront of our decision-making. Prop 204 is a step in that direction.

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