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PHOENIX -- Saying it's critical to fill the jobs of the future, Gov. Doug Ducey wants to have 60 percent of Arizonans earning something more than a high school diploma by 2030.

"A 21st century economy requires a 21st century skill set,'' Ducey told a gathering to launch the program. "In less than five years, nearly 70 percent of all jobs will require more than a high school diploma.''

But the governor proposed no new funding.

"We're thrilled to set this goal,'' Ducey told reporters afterwards, suggesting the question of money is premature.

"We're at 42 percent today,'' he explained of the number of Arizonans who go on beyond high school. "Nothing focuses the mind and the resources like setting that goal.''

Ducey pointed out the state is putting about $300 million more a year into K-12 education because of Proposition 123. That brings the total to about $4.3 billion a year, an increase of about 8 percent.

That voter-approved measure ended a 2010 lawsuit filed against the state by schools who said the governor and lawmakers ignored legal requirements to boost state aid to match inflation. But it was settled for an amount less than schools said they were owed and has left them with per-student funding below it otherwise would have been.

As to higher education, the state provided $8,506 per student in aid to universities a decade ago; the most recent figure from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee is half that amount.

That drop is even more pronounced for community colleges, which provide much of the post-high school career and technical training, with per-student state funding going from $1,389 in the 2007-2008 school year to just $389 today.

And there's no state funds at all for the Pima and Maricopa community college systems.

"If you've forgotten, we went through a very deep recession here in Arizona,'' Ducey said. "We did have to balance the budget.''

And Ducey noted that while his own first budget made the cuts even deeper, the per-student aid figure for both has since increased slightly. Northern Arizona University, for example, took a cut of $17 million two years ago, followed by a restoration of $1.5 million last year.

"So the trend line has changed,'' he said.

But even as Ducey defended the spending for public colleges and universities, he left the door open for the use of state dollars to help students attend privately owned for-profit technical schools.

They have an interest in the goal: The Achieve 60 Alliance includes not only public schools and colleges but also some private schools, including Universal Technical Institute, Grand Canyon University, Midwestern University and the University of Phoenix.

"We really believe in choice in our state,'' Ducey said. "We've seen the results and the excellence that that can provide.''

The governor said that means ensuring accessibility to not only state-run schools but also others, specifically naming Grand Canyon University and University of Phoenix.

"I want to see them have the accessibility to do that,'' he said. "And that's how our tax code should reflect it, and our state's priorities.''

That question of the tax code comes amid perennial efforts by Grand Canyon University, a private religious university, to convince lawmakers to alter its property tax classification, a move that would would have cut its bill by two thirds. But the measure ran into trouble and failed earlier this year for the third time because local property taxes not paid by that school on its campus would have been shifted to others, including area homeowners.

Ducey took no official position on the bill but had signed off on a budget plan that would have had the state reimburse local public schools in the area the $350,000 that lowering taxes for Grand Canyon would have cost them.

The idea of private school vouchers is not new. In fact, there are three such programs on the books, though only one is being funded.

That one provides college loans for people going into teaching, particularly in the areas of math, science and special education. But if they agree to go to an underserved area they can have the loan forgiven.

There also is a separate program, currently unfunded, designed to provide money for community college graduates to complete their bachelor's degree at a private institution. And there also is a small program, also without cash at the moment, that gives scholarships to a limited number of students to attend private colleges.


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