Thursday, June 17, 2010

We're #5 but it's nothing to cheer about

All too often we Arizonans hear that our state is competing for the bottom in many nationwide statistics--particularly in public health and education. For example, Arizona was already ranked #50 in per student educational funding before the latest round of budget cuts in 2010.

This week Georgetown University released a report that ranked Arizona #5 in at least one national statistic-- the percentage of jobs available to people without a high school diploma. According to the report, 14 percent of Arizona's future jobs will not require a high school diploma. According to Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018, only 61 percent of Arizona's workforce will require a post-secondary education.

This statistic is disappointing but not surprising. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 70.7 percent of Arizona's high school freshmen will graduate from high school. This year, Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer and the Republican-controlled state Legislature eliminated the state's GED and adult education programs. These budget cuts eliminated educational lifelines for the state's high school dropouts and adult illiterates.

Is our state's Governor and Legislature-- in their infinite wisdom-- funding our educational system to the appropriate level given that we are a state of maids, busboys, wait staff, and construction workers? On some level, it's convenient to have a high dropout rate and a large number of low-skill jobs.Not that there is anything wrong with those jobs except that you can't make a living on such low wages.

Or, has our state's paltry education funding facilitated our de-evolution and the creation of a low-wage, low-literacy, right-to-work state? Low-wage, low-skill jobs and a poor public education system go hand-in-hand with an uneducated workforce (and a gullible electorate who can be manipulated to vote against their own interests).
Continuing to cut public education won't help Arizona solve it's current economic crisis-- not to mention the long-term harm it will cause to future generations of Arizonans.

US Department of Labor statistics show that education pays. Not only do people with college degrees or advanced degrees earn more money, but they also have significantly lower unemployment rates.

Poor decisions by Arizona's Republican leadership have hurt our economy, crippled our educational system, and now (with the passage of SB1070) destroyed the state's image as an engaging place to visit and a quality place to live and do business.

Referring to the Georgetown study and the state Legislature's decisions, an editorial in today's Arizona Daily Star today stated that "Arizona is on a crash course toward poverty and economic stagnation..." I couldn't agree more.

But where do we go from here?

I urge our more moderate elected officials-- regardless of party affiliation-- to look at budget-balancing alternatives that will help our state grow and prosper. The plans detailed on the Stronger Arizona website were repeatedly suggested to the Republican-controlled leadership but never given consideration in 2010.

I urge moderate voters to band together to oust extremist (and dare I add racist?) ideologues from our state government in the November elections. Many districts are not competitive, thanks to gerrymandering, but Legislative Districts 26 and 30 -- both on the outskirts of Tucson-- are.

Let's take back our state. Extremists have been in control too long.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

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