Our country was founded and developed on the idea that if one got an education and worked hard, they could achieve great things. In fact, our social contract established that income inequality was okay as long a parent and his/her children could advance to a better position. It is no longer true in America that one can advance through education and hard work and that, is the major threat we face as a country.[i]
The changing demographics of Arizona and our Nation along with the impact that the circumstances of your birth can have on the opportunities for one’s life, are creating a real challenge we must address. In Arizona, Latinos currently represent almost one-third of Arizona’s total population and 43% of our K-12 students. In fact, Arizona is now home to more Latinos under the age of 18 than any other ethnic population group.[ii] This is important because it is projected that 62% of Arizona’s jobs will require more than a secondary education by 2018. According to the Census Bureau however, only 35% of adults 25- years and older had a college degree in 2010. Among Latinos, the fastest growing population in this majority-minority state, that number is twice as few, at 17%.[iii]
The Center for the Future of Arizona published a report in 2013 titled “The Arizona We Want 2.0”. As the name indicates, they looked at what Arizonan’s indicated they wanted in a 2009 Gallop Poll. In the education area, the citizens polled indicated they wanted “to 1) Graduate high school students who are “college-career” ready, 2) Align graduation requirements to national and international standards, and 3) Customize education to meet student goals”. What has happened in the state since then though, does not align with the people’s priorities. Rather,
– “Per student K-12 spending decreases by 21.8% ($783) per student) between FY08 and FY12, the largest percentage decrease among the 50 states.
– Arizona’s state university budgets are cut $400 million with an additional cut of 20% ($198 million) made in FY13.
– Joint Technical Education Districts experience 40% budget cuts ($29 million) in FY11.
– Prop 100 passes in 2010, temporarily raising sales tax by 1 percent to benefit education and other services; Prop 204 fails to make the sales tax increase permanent in 2012.[iv]”
The Arizona Legislature prides itself on balancing the budget, but doesn’t tell you that they did it on the backs of our public education system. They love to tout how Arizona offers so much school choice to parents but the truth is that choice is only an option for those who can take advantage of it. Choice does not guarantee opportunity just as a job does not guarantee wealth. There are numerous factors that come into play to help determine whether or not parents really have choice in where they send their children. For example, can the parents complete the sometimes extensive application process, can they transport their children to the school of choice, can they pay for their child’s meals, and do they have time they can take from work to participate in the required volunteer activities.
Yes, Arizona has school choice, but it has become more about choice for the schools, than choice for the parents. Charter and private schools do not take their “fare share” of special needs and English Learner students, nor are an equitable number of their students from homes in poverty. In fact, a majority of the school tuition organization scholarships awarded in 2012 went to families with a socio-economic status that should have enabled them to send their children to the private school without help.[v]
So, let’s recap. A well-educated populace is critical to Arizona’s ability to compete in the near future – 62% of our jobs will require more than a secondary education by 2018. Currently, over a third of our adult population would not be eligible for these jobs. As for the remaining 38% of jobs that these people could obtain, they will most likely not pay a living wage.[vi] Of course, this presupposes that we have enough sufficiently trained people to attract companies with the well-paying jobs and that this in-turn provides enough of a demand in the service industry for those without the prerequisite training. Poverty in Arizona at 19%, was already 3.1% higher than the US average according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The bottom line is that the only way Arizona will succeed is if we realize we are all in this together and we work together to solve our systemic problems. Poverty matters more than any single factor in the success of our school children and having an educated workforce is critical to our economic success.
[i] Uri Tresiman on poverty’s role in education
[ii] US Dept of Education 2011
[iv] The Arizona We Want 2.0
[vi] Lumina Foundation – Arizona We Want 2.0