PHOENIX - Saying they can't find qualified applicants for jobs, business leaders from around the state asked lawmakers Wednesday to support funding to implement the new "common core" standards.
But they're not willing to raise their taxes to do it.
A parade of speakers told a joint meeting of three House committees that even with the high jobless rate, many positions go unfilled. The reason, they said, is students do not graduate from high school ready to work, or ready for college, and don't have the ability to think critically as opposed to just acquiring knowledge.
"Critical reasoning is important on how students progress from one level to another," said Ron Carsten, chief engineer for Raytheon Missile Systems.
"It can't just be a memorized equation or the multiplication table," he told lawmakers. "It's got to be how does that apply, how does it solve a problem?"
But Carsten said the problem goes beyond finding qualified workers. He said Arizona's shortcomings affect Raytheon's ability to recruit employees from elsewhere.
"The first question they ask: How good are the schools?" he said, which prompts him to recommend school districts where they should buy a house.
"I shouldn't have to do that," he said. "We need some of these people in Arizona to be more competitive across the nation and globally."
Todd Sanders, president of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said having a qualified workforce is "a huge concern," and that education is a greater economic development tool than tax credits for businesses.
Support for more education spending, however, did not translate into support for higher taxes to make up for what Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, told colleagues is the $2.9 billion that's been taken from public schools in the last four years.
And Sanders said after the meeting his comments did not mean businesses are ready to forego some of those credits.
He said it's just that, for the first time in years, the state appears to have more revenues coming in than are needed to fund services at current levels and, "We think that some of those dollars should be allocated toward funding 'common core.' "
Rep. Tom Forese, R-Chandler, who helped organize the meeting of the committees on education, commerce, and higher education and workforce development, said he hopes to spur an interest in more spending on education by some of his Republican colleagues.
Gov. Jan Brewer already has said she intends to seek some funds for this coming year to implement the standards.
She won't say how much of the possible $600 million in surplus funds she plans to dedicate to that until Friday.
But Brewer already has listed a series of other priorities that will eat into those dollars, including money for new school resource officers and hiring more caseworkers for Child Protective Services.
And there could be even less available if the state has to comply with Tuesday's ruling by the Court of Appeals to add an extra $82 million in inflation funding for public schools.
In praising the standards, the business leaders said they align what students in Arizona are supposed to learn with what is being adopted in most other states.
But Cathleen Barton, the regional education manager for Intel Corp., said it goes beyond that.
She described the old standards as "a mile wide, an inch deep."
With the new standards, she said, "The learning and the understanding will be deeper. This will help develop critical thinkers, problem analyzers and solvers, and good communicators."