Arizona Governor Doug Ducey pledged 80 percent of his new budget priorities toward education during his state of the state address Monday. But some Flagstaff-area officials are waiting to see the details of his budget and how he plans to fund those projects before getting on board.
Some of Ducey's priorities included money to help fund all-day kindergarten, career and technical education, computer coding and science, reducing waitlists at high performing schools that have them, closing the achievement gap and new school buses for districts. He also included one goal from last year, funding high-speed internet for rural schools.
Ducey did not detail in his speech how he would fund the improvements but said his budget, due to be released on Friday, “will include a full commitment to accelerate the state’s K-12 investment, and restore long standing cuts from the recession made before many of us were here.”
Julie Pastrick, the president and CEO of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, attended the speech as a guest of Representative Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff. The focus on funding for K-12 education was a highlight of the speech for her, which also touched on chamber priorities.
"K-12 has to be a top priority," she said. "We won't know the details until his budget is released Friday, but it should have a substantial amount and mechanism for K-12, with a focus on teacher pay."
Pastrick said she was also happy to hear Ducey plans to continue funding for career and technical education (CTE) programs.
"CTE education has been a priority of the chamber because it is a personalized approach to education," she said. "You have your choice of if you want to learn welding or culinary or any of the other types of skills."
An increased investment in K-12 and higher education will help supply Arizona business with skilled workers, which will aid business attraction and retention, she said.
Ducey's comments about Arizona's trade relationships with the Mexican state of Sonora were also exciting for Pastrick.
"Sonora and Arizona are working together to make sure we have a vibrant economy between the two states," she said.
Pastrick said businesses in Arizona, both big and small, rely on trade with Mexico for parts and finished goods.
Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board member Kate Kozak said Ducey’s list of education projects “would be an incredible boost to all of the school districts in the state, including FUSD.”
But she was curious to see how and if they would be funded.
FUSD Board member Kara Kelty was also curious to see how the governor planned to fund the improvements.
"This is what we expected when (Prop.) 123 passed," she said, referring to Ducey's list of projects. "It's the investment Arizonans deserve. I hope it's not just electioneering. Arizonans are less patient with promises of investment in education when those promises don't match the actions of the legislature and the governor's office."
Expect More Arizona CEO Christine Thompson said the organization was glad to hear of Ducey’s pledge to prioritize education in his budget.
“New money this year will be another important step toward adequately funding education, but the aggressive goals outlined in the Arizona Education Progress Meter and the teacher recruitment and retention crisis will not be solved in just one year. Arizona’s education system – K through 12, community colleges, and universities – requires continued, reliable investments over time to continue to improve,” she said.
LEGISLATOR WEIGHS IN
Thorpe, the Flagstaff representative, also said he's holding off on making any definite comments on Ducey's education plans until he sees the governor's budget numbers.
Thorpe supported last year's legislation expanding the program that provides vouchers to parents to send their children to private and parochial schools. Opponents have since gathered enough signatures to put the law to voters this November, but Thorpe said he wouldn't rule out a bill that revises the original legislation, which would derail the voter referendum on the issue unless new signatures are gathered.
Thorpe said he was encouraged to hear about the reduction in recidivism that Ducey mentioned and said he is supportive of sentencing reform, which has been mentioned by legislators on both sides of the aisle. Thorpe said he likes the idea of "double tracking back" to reexamine sentencing guidelines "as well as ways we can reduce the impact, especially on people on the lower end of the economic scale."
In light of the poor state of some of the state's roads, Thorpe said he wants to prioritize finding another funding source for the Department of Public Safety, so that funds meant for roads maintenance don't keep getting diverted to that department. Thorpe said he'd like to see a separate funding stream for DPS, such as an extra charge on car registration.