Brewer to seek more school funds

Says state will change how kids are taught, successes measured
2013-01-12T00:00:00Z Brewer to seek more school fundsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday promised to seek more funding for public schools in next year's budget.

In a speech Friday, Brewer said Arizona has more revenues coming in than are needed for current state programs. She said one priority has to be funding education, which has been shorted in prior budgets as she and lawmakers looked for ways to balance the books.

"You and I agree an educated workforce is central to attracting and retaining jobs in Arizona," Brewer told an audience of business executives and officials at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

But she said this isn't simply a question of sending more dollars to schools and hoping for the best. Instead, she said, Arizona is changing how it teaches students and how it measures their achievements.

"We're implementing Common Core Standards that are benchmarked to the toughest standards worldwide," she said. "We will not only improve what students learn, but how they learn."

Brewer told those listening - including legislative leaders who were in attendance - that can't be done on the cheap.

"We can't just implement a new curriculum, raise standards and hope for the best," she said. So her budget plan, to be released next week, will include "the resources necessary to make this transition a success."

GOP leaders say they are interested in the plan. But incoming Senate President Andy Biggs is reserving final judgment.

"You notice she didn't say how much it was,' " he pointed out after the speech, saying there are estimates floating around of anywhere from $15 million to hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I'm anxious to see the budget that the governor comes out with, because it would help me understand how she's interpreting the (financial) need for K-12," he said.

Brewer declined to provide specifics.

"That will all be spelled out when my budget is released," she said. "And you will know that answer come Friday."

House Speaker Andy Tobin said lawmakers have been responsive to education needs. For example, he said the Legislature agreed last year to the governor's request for more money to finance a program that requires students to read at the third-grade level before being promoted to fourth grade.

That, however, was only after the GOP cut $10 million from her $50 million request. And Brewer's bid for $100 million for "soft capital," including computers and books, was rejected entirely.

Tobin said one thing he'd be willing to pay for is improved teacher training.

"That's not just throwing money at education," he said. "That's saying, 'OK, we need you to be better, we need you to train more,' " Tobin continued. "We're willing to make those investments."

Arizona is one of 47 states that have adopted Common Core Standards, hoping to align what Arizona requires students to learn in English and math with what is being taught across the country.

At a minimum, it should mean the achievement levels of Arizona students can be directly compared with other states. Now, the main test used here is AIMS - Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards - which is based solely on goals prepared for students here. Each grade has its own standard.

Education officials said the new standards also mean sometimes changing how teachers now teach subjects, which takes training.

Also, the system is set up so all the students take the tests on computers at the same time. Many schools have neither enough computers nor the necessary bandwidth to deal with that many simultaneous test-takers.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said it will cost tens of millions of dollars to train teachers to implement the new standards.

"That's an investment we need to make," he said. "If we don't do that, we're setting our schools up and we're setting our teachers up, and, most importantly, setting our students up to fail."

State Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal said he will not be part of the governor's push for more dollars for Common Core. His priority is getting the Legislature to approve $35 million to update his agency's data system, which tracks where children are enrolled and their scores on standardized tests.

He called the upgrade "the most important for improving the quality of education in Arizona."

Biggs said he wants to be sure any additional funds provided to public education will make a difference. He said there's no direct correlation between the amount of money spent and scholastic achievement.

On StarNet: To read more about local and state government and political news, go to azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics

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