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AZ Education Advocates Get Jump-Start on Budget Cut Debate

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December 11, 2008

Phoenix, AZ – With the state facing a budget gap of more than $1 billion, Arizona education advocates are pushing lawmakers to protect school funding when they meet next month.

Despite large state budget deficits in recent years, Arizona's Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, was able to thwart education spending cuts proposed by the largely Republican legislature. Now that Napolitano has been nominated as Homeland Security Secretary, her replacement would be the Republican secretary of state, Jan Brewer. Arizona Education Association president John Wright is keeping an open mind, however.

"She is from the other political party, that's true, but I think it will be smart for us to make no assumptions and to hear from Secretary Brewer herself what her plans are, what her priorities are, and then begin to talk and find some common strategies--and when necessary, negotiate."

Republican lawmakers say the magnitude of the shortfall makes education cuts mandatory. But while education spending makes up nearly 60 percent of the state's budget, a Pew Center on the States report earlier this year ranked Arizona last in the nation for per-pupil spending.

Wright insists there are creative ways to solve the deficit without going straight to tax increases.

"We're losing a great deal of revenue from the education fund itself through tax credits and the like. We want to talk about how we close the budget gap by increasing available revenue, as well as by finding the necessary cuts when needed."

At this point, however, Wright says nothing should be off the table, including tax hikes.

In the current recession, Wright cautions that wholesale cuts to education will further damage the state's economy.

"It's important we keep people employed, keep vendors busy by providing goods and services, at the same time that we're maintaining the highest-quality education. The dollars spent on education have multiple payouts in terms of long-term dividends."

The Pew Center report is at www.pewcenteronthestates.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ