Thursday, February 5, 2009

Senator Pearce on Budget Cuts to Education

Dear family, friends and fellow citizens,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the proposed spending reductions to education. As a state senator in Arizona, I always appreciate hearing the concerns of the public, and as a father and grandfather, I can personally relate to the apprehension regarding the future of education in Arizona. Here is the '09 challenge: We just resolved a $1.6 billion deficit to fix, with only 5 months left, with only 50% of the budget to work with due to voter protected initiatives, and entitlement programs. Now, we are trying to solve a $2.5 to $3 billion deficit for fiscal 2010 that starts July 1st, again with only 50% of the budget on the table to work with. Tax increases are not the answer with families and businesses struggling to survive. Record foreclosures, a 26 year high in unemployment and many folks including myself that live on a fixed income. The attachment will clear up some of the misinformation on education funding in Arizona.

As you well know, the landscape of Arizona’s economic environment has changed. Families and businesses throughout the state have been forced to adapt to a faltering economy. In fact, it is the worst budgetary shortfall in our state’s history. In consideration of rising expenses that far outweigh declining revenue, Legislators are being forced to make the same difficult choices that face many American families. We are working to correct Arizona’s steep budget crisis during this economic downturn, but there are only three viable options: increasing taxes, borrowing money, or reducing spending. Times of recession call for conservation. Increasing taxes would likely prolong this recession, or, even worse, push it into a depression. Likewise, borrowing money would only delay the problem, hurt the overall financial health of our state and essentially mortgage our children’s future.

A significant portion of the proposed education “cuts” are really just rollbacks of spending increases that were made over recent years when our accounts were flush with money because of a strong housing market and a relatively prosperous economy. In fact, these increases illustrate the importance and value that Legislators have placed on education. Amidst this fiscal crisis, if we do not make reductions to education, which makes up almost 60% of the budget, or health/human services and public safety, which accounts for another 35%, we have only 5% left to work with—at a time when we are as much as 30% short! As difficult as these decisions may be, and as painful as they may feel in the short-term, reducing spending is necessary to preserve the long-term vitality of our education system.

I continue to fight for families and the taxpayers of this great state. One issue we continue to ignore and is the elephant in the middle of the room when it comes to crime, taxes, education, healthcare, is the illegal immigration issue. No one talks about it as we examine our budget shortfall. The failure of our local law enforcement and social service agencies to enforce our immigration laws costs the Arizona taxpayers significantly. The illegal immigration impact on our state is $2-$3 billion annually - $1 billion in K-12 alone plus lost jobs to Americans, lower wages and, according to FBI and local records, the huge crime wave including deaths and maimings that we are experiencing.

Remember, I did not create this deficit. I have continuously fought to hold down reckless spending while fighting for education, public safety and transportation as our priorities. Our former Governor with co-conspirators have created this mess by growing government by an average of 12% for the past 6 years, while inflation PLUS population has been 6%. It has been reckless spending by those who ignore the impact to the taxpayers in this state. We must protect working families while we address critical issues facing this state. No one said it would be easy.

God bless everyone and may God continue to bless America. I wish you and your family all the best during these difficult times.

Senator Russell Pearce, LD18, Mesa

Senator Pearce's Attachment

Education Funding (Sources are in parenthesis)

Per pupil funding (from all sources): $9700. (JLBC)
Education comprises nearly 60% of the state general fund. (JLBC)
Arizona ranks 21st in aggregate dollars spent on K-12. (
Arizona ranks 21st in aggregate dollars spent on current K-12 operating expenses. (NCES, NEA, ATRA).

Teacher Salaries

Arizona ranks 11th for teacher salaries. (NCES, NEA, ATRA)
Arizona ranks 1st in the average salary of instructional staff on a per capita income basis. (NCES, NEA, ATRA

Test Scores

Arizona ranks 21st nationally for ACT composite scores. (ALEC)
Arizona ranks 27th for SAT Math and Critical Reading scores. (NCES)

Student Enrollment

Arizona ranks 13th in aggregate K-12 total student enrollment. (NEA)

Higher Education

Higher Education general fund monies have increased by 43% since 2004. (JLBC)

by 43% since 2004.

Arizona ranks 11th in percentage of individuals 18-24 years old with a Bachelor's Degree (National Science Foundation)

Why it is INACCURATE to say Arizona ranks 49th in Education:
These rankings are based on the “per pupil” spending calculation which does not take into account the following:

- Uniformity as to what funding categories go into the calculation from state-to-state (for example, Arizona is highly ranked in terms of capital expenditures per pupil, but none of those dollars are factored into Arizona’s per pupil calculations)

- Actual dollars spent in the classroom from district-to-district or state-to-state
cost of living adjustments

- State constitutional requirements/limitations with regard to education funding
estimates and redundancies in student counts

- Calculation variances that occur because of rapid growth issues faced by states like Arizona, versus states experiencing little, no or negative growth

There are better gauges to education ranking that are outcome-based indicators, such as student achievement, test scores, etc.
This calculation looks at education spending in a vacuum. It makes absolutely no sense for public policy to be driven by one isolated apples-to-oranges statistic.