PHOENIX - The former chief executive of Intel Corp. told legislative and business leaders Tuesday Arizona won't be a real magnet for new business until it turns out more qualified high school and college graduates.
"The educational system in the United States and in Arizona in particular is not particularly attractive," Craig Barrett told the Arizona Commerce Authority. The situation is so poor, he said, that if Intel were looking for a site to build an entirely new operation, as opposed to expanding its $10 billion Arizona presence, Arizona would not even be on the list of Top 10 choices.
He was not alone in his comments.
"The education system here is very weak," said Doug Pruitt, chief executive of Sundt Construction.
And Judy Wood, who runs Contact One, a small call center, said even her firm, which does not need college graduates, is having trouble finding Arizona high school graduates who can properly compose a sentence.
Their audience included Gov. Jan Brewer, who co-chairs the authority and is proposing to cut state aid for universities by $170 million, or about another 20 percent.
But that may not be the full extent of the problem. The Senate already has approved a budget that digs another $65 million into higher education funds. It also cuts about $250 million from K-12 education, an area of the budget that Brewer had tried to leave untouched.
"The bottom line is that I've been the crusader for education," Brewer said after the meeting. "I've led the charge to protect education. And I'm continuing to try ... to protect education as we move through this budget process."
The governor said, though, nothing Barrett or anyone said would cause her to back off her proposal to cut university funding, or to scale back another part of her budget which would pare state aid to community colleges by half.
"We are going to do the best job that we can with the dollars that we have to deliver the best education to everyone," she said, from preschool through college.
Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, also said he has no second thoughts about the deeper education spending cuts his chamber approved.
Pearce said Barrett "is not missing the mark" about the quality of Arizona education. "But the truth is, funding's not the whole answer," he said. Pearce said he's convinced there is enough money going into education as long as the funds are being properly used.
He did take issue, though, with Barrett's contention that Arizona is in the bottom quarter of all states in the quality of its K-12 education.
"We're probably running in the middle, in the average," Pearce said. And he said part of that is due to "demographics," specifically the large percentage of students in school for whom English is not their first language.
"I think we probably have a very good educational system that just has challenges that many other states don't have," he said.
The Commerce Authority is designed as a public-private partnership charged with attracting new business to the state. It will replace the state Department of Commerce.
Barrett told authority members, "The quality of education is extremely important to companies like Intel."
He said state budget problems - Arizona faces a $1.1 billion shortfall next fiscal year - "don't bode well for the future."
"If you want those high-paying jobs - the jobs that pay two to three times the average - look for your educational infrastructure to be the key," he said.
Pruitt said the state also needs to do a better job in training those who are not destined to go on to college, noting two-thirds of the jobs of companies like his do not require a four-year college degree.
"I'm a big fan of technical education, which is also very weak in Arizona," Pruitt said. And the entire K-12 system needs to be retooled "to get these young people out of high school with working skills."
Wood said her experience in trying to hire people proves that graduates don't have the necessary talents to do the job.
"They need to have good grammar, good spelling, able to write in complete sentences because we do lots of (online) live chat," she said.
Wood said foreign students from the universities have "far superior" skills than Arizonans showing up to look for work.
On StarNet: Find education-related resources such as on-campus crime stats, charter and private school listings, and the Student of the Week feature at azstarnet.com/education
"If you want those high-paying jobs - the jobs that pay two to three times the average - look for your educational infrastructure to be the key."
Former chief executive of Intel Corp.